Sunday, October 22, 2017

Book Review: Full Cicada Moon

Book: Full Cicada Moon by Marylin Hilton
Genre: Middle grade (MG), historical fiction, poetry
Awards: Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature for Children (2015)
My rating: 5/5 stars
One-word description: Inspirational



If somebody said they didn’t understand poetry, I would hand them this book. Beautifully written with unique imagery, Hilton paints a world that not only speaks to the mind but touches the heart.

While I was struggling through two other fairly boring books, wondering if any story could ever get better, it did. I put the other books down and picked up Full Cicada Moon. Wow, am I glad I did! An okay book, I may finish in a week or two. An excellent book takes a day or less. I’m pretty sure I finished this one in a couple of hours.

And man, can Hilton write! Not even one-hundred pages into the book, I had to stop and tell my mom she had to read it.

          “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.”


You had me at snow and stars.

This book is about beauty and standing up for your dreams and making friends and culture. Not to spoil too much, I shan't delve too much further into the themes.  

          “I am
          half Mama,
          half Papa,
          and all me.”

Daughter of a Japanese immigrant and an African-American, Mimi doesn’t exactly fit in her new town in Vermont. If you’re looking for a book on diversity and what it means to truly be an American, Full Cicada Moon is it.

I even got goosebumps reading about the part where Mimi and her family were watching the Apollo 11 Mission, particularly when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. I can’t remember the last time a poem gave me goose bumps. Seriously, lyrical novels are now one of my favorite things. I. Need. MORE.

This is what a book is supposed to look like.

Of course, I had to give it 5/5 stars for vivid verse, excellent characters, and powerful themes. I would recommend this book to anybody interested in historical fiction, novels in verse, and excellent stories. Now, where to get a copy…

Let’s chat! Have you read Full Cicada Moon yet? If so, what did you think? What’s on your TBR for this fall? What do you think about novels in verse? Do you have any recommendations?

***

Similar posts: The Importance of Poetry and Book Reviews: Goodbye Days and A World Without You

Enjoy lyrical novels? You might enjoy Saving Red by Sonya Jones and Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai.


How about middle grade novels with diverse characters? You might enjoy Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, Young Fu Of The Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, and York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Why Writers Should Study Their Craft

Confession: sometimes I’m an arrogant writer. Perhaps studying for my MA in English Literature helped a bit. (It’s called a Master’s degree for a reason, right?) Perhaps it’s because I’ve written eight novel-length manuscripts, not counting Last of the Memory Keepers. But if there’s one method for humility that works great for writers, it’s giving your story to somebody else for honest feedback.

Last winter, I started writing a novel that I believe is my best yet. Even after several rounds of edits, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I decided to send it off to several critique partners. Their feedback was invaluable, and once, I had somebody advise me to read more and to pick up a book on writing.

“But I’ve got an MA in English Literature,” I thought. “I read blog posts on writing. And I read three books a week. What more do I need?”

Nonetheless, I picked up a book on writing. I own a couple. Why not read them? And boy, am I glad I did!


Books rock.


Seriously, though. Writers, if somebody advises you to read, why would you say no? Just do it! We write books. If you don’t take the time to read them, make time.


You don’t need a degree.


Maybe I’m not the one to advocate for this, considering I up and moved to England to learn about dragons and study swordplay study quality literature. But, it’s true. You don’t have to have your MA in English or even your BA to be a writer. I won’t tell you that you don’t even need a high school degree because that would be “irresponsible” despite the many writers who were dropouts and still managed to be successful.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a full advocate for education, and I’m a total intellectual. (I read Moby-Dick for fun, and I’m thoroughly enjoying Les Miserables.) But there is no secret ingredient to being a writer except writing. Writers can come from all vocations.

Nonetheless, effective communication is vital. And even if you have an editor, he or she should have some sense of what you’re trying to say. A bit of advice if you’re sending a story off to an editor, try to make sure your piece is as error-free as you can make it. This saves time and energy. And how else do you learn how to edit without knowing a bit of grammar and writing style?


Head and Heart.


As I mentioned, I’m a bit of an intellectual. Perhaps too much of one. After writing an essay, I have a hard time switching back to my writing voice. And often times, I struggle to convey emotions in my story. After all, I’m probably not going to stab a character write about cliffhangers in my essays.

I already knew that I can’t write an essay like I write a story. After all, professors don’t like fragments. Fiction readers. They just might.Likewise, when reading Writing the Breakout Novel, I learned that I wasn’t putting my voice into my stories nearly enough. Some of my prose was bland, to say the least.

“To set your voice free, set your words free. Set your characters free. Most important, set your heart free.” (Writing the Breakout Novel)

So… follow your heart? That’s not something they teach you in college. But I suppose you could say to an intellectual: implement your passion. What excites you to the point where you can’t sleep? What drives you? Harness that, and write about it.

I never would have figured this out if I hadn’t picked up a book on writing. Okay, maybe I would have come across a blog post eventually, but the bit of advice might not have come when I needed it. In all, I’ve found writing blog posts are a great place to start, and writing books can expand such information and help you fill in the gaps.


You never stop learning.


Need I say more? When you study your craft, you’re that much closer to perfecting it. How many people get to say that reading benefits their work? Sure, you may have to struggle through grammar at times, but there are so many, many ways to research for writing. You don’t have to read the dictionary, but make sure you read! Read books on writing. Attend a college course. Experience the world.

Quick! What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research? What are some of your favorite books on writing? What are some of your favorite blogs for writers? (Yes, feel free to list your own!)

***



Literary references: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Controversy in Fiction: Monsters

Welcome back to my mini-series, Controversy in Fiction. Each post can be read separately and in no particular order, as each one explores a different topic. This week, for October I’ll discuss monsters. You’re welcome for the creepy picture. Do you feel tiny feet crawling up your arm?
 
I’m not much into horror books or thrillers, but I have picked up an occasional supernatural thriller. (Relax, Mom, you recommended them to me.) And let’s face it, it’s hard to read fantasy novels without running into a monster or two every now and then. As there are so many different types, I’ve decided to sort them by categories.
 
What’s so controversial about monsters, you might ask? Depending on the genre, readers might start to wonder how necessary they really are.
 
 
Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. I’m not here to talk about clowns, witches, or wizards. This post is strictly about non-human creatures. 
 

 

Natural Monsters

 
You don’t have to go far to find a monster in the natural world, and I’m not just talking about the spider living under your bed. (Please don’t freak out! I don’t know where the spiders live in your house.) And when I say natural, most of the monsters in this section are fictional. 
 
One particular monster that makes for some interesting stories are kelpies, a Scottish mythical creature also referred to as the water horse. Doesn’t sound familiar? The Loch Ness monster is one such beast based off kelpies. Aside from The Water Horse, I haven’t found a decent story about the Loch Ness monster. I now accepting book recommendations.
 
Another collection of monsters based off kelpies include the capaill uisce from The Scorpio Races. (And they’re making a movie! Squee!!! I can finally figure out how to pronounce that name.) Now the capaill uisce aren’t playful like the water horse. If anything, they will eat you. And your sheep. And your parents. How exactly does that make The Scorpio Races such an appealing story? Well, um… it doesn’t. But the terrifying nature of the water horses is such a great metaphor for the ocean. Usually it’s described as peaceful, but oftentimes people forget how dangerous it can be. (Writers, check out Writing about the Ocean.)
 
Another good example of a natural type is the monster from A Monster Calls. Literally, that’s what it’s called—the monster. (Maybe it’s not as original of a name as the capaill uisce, but at least I can spell monster!) While most parents wouldn’t want their kids reading a book about monsters, this one is part narrative, part graphic novel. And it’s not just about a creepy tree, it’s about grief and truth and stories.
 
Arguably, the monster from this book could fall under supernatural monsters, but I have listed him under natural monsters 1) because he is the embodiment of a yew tree and 2) because he does not have many the spiritual connotations aside from grief.
 
You could probably add dragons to this list. Then there’s the debate of which is the real monster—the animal or the human. Most people will go with the human.
 
 

Monsters Made from Experiments

 
Here we start delving more into the darker side of fiction. But I think we can all agree that experimentation to create monsters never ends well.
 
In Frankenstein, the novel’s namesake brings to life a being which he refers to as the Creature or the Monster. Yes, the creature is ugly, but aside from his ugly appearance, he’s not monstrous. Not at first. This book, I’d say is the poor results of what happens when one is called a monster too often—that’s what they become.
 
Yes, arguably, you could say the monster in this book came from a human, or multiple humans, but I have labeled him under experiments as he was not made of his own consent.
 
However, there are experiments that truly are monstrous. Take the mutts in The Hunger Games for example. In the film, they were just mutations bent on killing. In the book, they were made from the bodies of the slain tributes. That’s right. Rue was among them. Talk about creepy.
 
 

Monsters from Humans (or Elves, Hobbits, etc…)

 
Not to be confused with monsters made from experiments, monsters that come from humans or other sentient beings tend to be a willing participant in their change. Of course, there’s going to be some overlap, so feel free to debate my categorization.
 
In The Lord of the Rings, the orcs were once elves, twisted by the darkness. And the Uruk-hai were descended from orcs and trolls. (Yes, I’m going from the movies because I’ve seen them a million times. If you’ve studied the books closer than I have, correct me if I’m wrong.)
 
My main problem with the LotR has always been with the orcs and the Uruk-hai. Sure, the story needs a source of villainy, but can a creature be truly born evil? Spiders aren’t evil. (Though some Tolkien fans might argue differently.) They’re actually beneficial. Likewise, while people can come from horrible backgrounds, that doesn’t mean they all turn out bad.
 
 

Supernatural Monsters

 

Not to be confused with the show Supernatural. I’ve never seen it, and honestly, I never plan to. For me, this category is the most disturbing of all. They don’t just affect the body, but the soul.
 
One particular duology my sister is obsessed with is the Monsters of Verity. The first book, This Savage Song, is filled with three monsters, the Corsai, the Malachai, and the Sunai. And one of the main characters, August, is Sunai who just wants to be human. While the first book is dark, the second book Our Dark Duet is even more so. Though I may not agree with all views in the book, it is an interesting exploration of what it means to be human and what it means to be a “sinner”.
 
But the monsters don’t stop there.
 
Even at age seventeen, the dementors from the Harry Potter series creeped me out. There’s no way I could have read that book when I was thirteen.
 
Perhaps the most terrifying of all fictional monsters was Tash from The Last Battle. When I was a kid, my family and I liked to listen to the radio drama versions of the Chronicles of Narnia. One night, when I couldn’t sleep, I decided to listen to music on my MP3 player. Unfortunately, it was on shuffle, and I just so happened to wake up to the scene where Tash came in. Listening to that part during the day is creepy enough. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.
 
Do monsters belong in fiction? I’d have to say, yes. Often, creatures may point out the monstrous in ourselves. The main concern is the level of fascination. How does one read about monsters without becoming obsessed them? Like with any fiction, some discernment is required. Before you hand a book off to a child or friend, know their maturity levels. And don’t be afraid to talk about the book’s content.
 
Again, these categories are not definitive. After all, how would you classify werewolves, and are they animal or humanoid? Often when it comes to monsters and fantasy, they blend the familiar into something entirely new. For a good example of a book that attempts to classify animals in a particular fantasy world Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a good example.
 
Looking for more monstrous books? Other monsters not mentioned in this post include, but are not limited to the Fae in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (long but worth it, historical fantasy), the yellow spotted lizards in Holes (not a creepy book, MG contemporary), Grievers in The Maze Runner (semi-creepy, YA dystopian), the Satan and his demons from Paradise Lost (classic literature, poetry), the demons from This Present Darkness (supernatural thriller), and the Sheolites from The Remnants trilogy (YA dystopian/fantasy).
 
Let’s chat! Which is your favorite monster from fiction? Are there any I left out? What’s your take on monsters? 
 
***
 
 
Film references: The Water Horse, The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, and Supernatural.
 
Literary references: Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity duology, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Louis Sachar’s Holes, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness, and Lisa T. Bergren’s The Remnants trilogy.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Poem: Ether

Truth: I have favorites among my own poems. This is one of them. I’ve been saving this one for a rainy day. (Read: when I’m so busy editing that I haven’t had energy to write poetry.) As it is raining as I type, and as this poem relates to weather and bright colors, I thought it fitting. Yet while this may be a poem about gray skies, it is not necessarily about autumn. It could apply to any season, really.

“That’s why Camilla and I got married,” said Denniston as they drove off. “We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but just Weather. It’s a useful taste if one lives in England.” (That Hideous Strength)

I wrote this piece while I was studying in England. It happened to be another cloudy day. Surprise, surprise. I was sick of the clouds and desperate for sunshine. Until I sat down to write. I decided to choose a new perspective, to put a twist on the typical attitude of “gray skies are depressing”. So If you happen to be feeling down about the weather, if it’s too cold outside to feel the kiss of the sun, if it’s too wet to go for a walk, this one’s for you. Take a step back. Read a good book. Make yourself a cup of tea. And, as always, enjoy a poem.


Ether

The sky is on default—a blank slate, a whiteboard—
What will you write? A sonnet of romance—
of the enchanted way the petals of water kiss your face?
Or a sarcastic comment on how horrid the weather is—
Bother, should have stayed inside!—damp, grey?

Before the water waltzes down, the white sky mimics
your imagination—an empty computer screen.
How will you personalize it? Set it with a picture
of a roaring waterfall in the lush Amazon?
Or a rotund retriever shaking the last bits of water away?

The red brick structures rise up like icons on your screen,
but no matter how many folders you open,
no matter how deep you go,
the blank slate will remain in the background, watching,
waiting for you to return to see its straight face.

Don’t just greet the powder blue skies and sunshine
bursting like a ripe orange—a grapefruit!—
for it’s the white canvases stretched across the earth
that holds the most potential for a painting.

***

Let’s chat! What’s your take on weather? Do you enjoy cloudy days or sunny ones? Or both? Which place, in your opinion, has the most stereotypical “dismal” weather?

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