Sunday, August 2, 2020

Poem: [Like fireflies in the night]

At work a couple weeks ago, I heard about the comet NEOWISE. Discovered back in March, this beauty will not pass within visible range for the next 6,800 years. While I could just use my time machine to jump ahead to the next sighting, I thought I’d try to spot it before it went away this time.

Unfortunately, the cloud cover made it almost impossible. For days on end, it we had thunderstorms and cloud cover that rolled in at night. It wasn’t until the last day, July 23, that I saw a break in the clouds around the Northwest where Ursa Major and its more well-known asterism, the Big Dipper, were supposed to show up. I used a compass and a star app. Thank God for modern technology!

I set up my telescope, and I waited. The sun set trailing brilliant colors on the remaining clouds, and I waited some more. I waited for the stars to come out, getting distracted by the occasional blink of fireflies. Then I had to reposition the telescope on the slope of the yard and hope I didn’t accidentally fall off the cliff.

When I couldn’t figure out which point of light was the comet—I couldn’t see a star with a tail—I started pointing the telescope at different stars to the left of the Big Dipper, hoping one was actually the comet. That’s when I found it. Now, the light pollution and humidity didn’t give me a great view. It looked more like a yellow star that was moving often enough that I had to adjust the telescope.

In the end, I got to see the comet, and the night inspired me to write a poem, even if the poem has little to do with comets.


[Like fireflies in the night]

Like fireflies in the night,
I watch the sparks burn
and blink out,
dying,
     drifting
down
beneath the boughs.

I wish I could feel
again
but my fingertips are numb
from this
            water
and all I hear
are the screams
of cicadas.

Set the pyre ablaze
until all I hear
is the roar
of the flames licking
                                    up
                                                silver stars
until the ashes dance away
like fireflies in the night.

***

Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? What are you passionate about?

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Book Review: Beneath Wandering Stars


“People are the only home the Army issues.”

This book is full of so, sooo many gems! Like the above line and many others that I wish I could share them all, but then it would be the whole book. I’m not doing that. What I will be doing is talking about reasons why you should read the story.



Book: Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles
Genre: YA Contemporary
My rating: 5/5 stars
Awards: Colorado Book Award for Young Adult Literature (2017)
Mini description: Army brats

I first found out about the novel when I was doing a search for contemporary young adult novels set in Europe. Historical fiction is great, and it has its place, but I haven’t read as many contemporary novels set in Europe. I’m making a list. When I found out the book was set on the Camino de Santiago, I was ecstatic. For those of you who may not know, I walked the Camino (aka the Way of Saint James) with my Mom last spring. To have a YA novel set along the pilgrimage sounded awesome.

What I didn’t know about the book was that it was about an Army Brat who walked the Camino by an Army brat who walked the Camino. Wait… I’m an Army brat. Is this a book I can actually, finally relate to in a way that’s deeper than your typical travel narrative? The blurb never told me this tidbit! I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS BOOK MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!

The military aspects of the books were pretty easy for me to understand but were explained well for readers who may not come from a military background. The book also addressed elements such as soldiers who are wounded in action and what is like for those who come back and don’t necessarily struggle with PTSD but are still never the same. Even having grown up in a military culture, the book reminded me that I don’t know all the aspects of what it’s like to serve in the military.

The characters themselves are super well developed. Gabi, the protagonist, is both frustrated with and proud of her life growing up amid the Army. Her list of things she hates about being an Army brat that turns into a list of things she learns to love at the end of the story is just beautiful. Seth, her brother’s best friend and comrade, seems like your typical stoic soldier, but as it turns out, he has a soft spot for cats and is terrified of chickens of all things.

Not only does the story have a protagonist I can relate to, but it also has gems like this one:

“I’d forgotten what mountain skies are like—how they make you feel insignificant and infinite at the same time.”

The setting is amazing. Of course, it’s the Camino. The book itself covers parts of the pilgrimage that I didn’t get to walk, like the journey up the mountains from St. Jean and even a chapel with chickens in it at Santo Domingo de la Calzada. I guess this means my mom and I are going to have to go back to walk the Camino again someday.

In all, I gave Beneath Wandering Stars 5/5 stars for great setting, characters, and themes. I would recommend the book to anybody who enjoys YA contemporary novels and to those who would like to better understand what it’s like to be a military brat. For my fellow Army brats, this book is for you.

Interested in Beneath Wandering Stars? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: Almost American Girl, Forward Me Back to YouThe Someday Birds, and Summer Blue Bird.

Let’s chat! Has Beneath Wandering Stars made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it yet? Any fellow military brats out there? Have any recommendations for YA contemporaries set in Europe?

***

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Recommended Reading: Disability Representation

When I was a kid, I hated The Phantom of the Opera. At first, I didn’t exactly know why. It wasn’t until I came to enjoy it in college that I understood my initial dislike. It wasn’t just because the story is depressing (what? it is!), but that it also had an incredibly negative portrayal of a character who was born with a facial deformity. Now, this post isn’t so much about how I learned to empathize with the Phantom or whether or not he was justified in his actions but rather about disability representation in literature.

For a long time, most disabled characters were portrayed in a negative light. Shakespeare’s Richard III was a despicable character and he was a hunchback (though it is based on historical fact, there is still a lot of speculation put into the play). Mary Shelly’s creature in Frankenstein was often likened to a monster and hated mostly because he was hideous. Even Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame portrays Quasimodo, deaf and hunchbacked, as being hideous despite being the most admirable character.

Once I was able to understand the context of a story, like The Phantom of the Opera, I was better able to appreciate it as a piece of literature, even if I disliked it for those very reasons. This post is not about those stories though, but rather a list of recommended contemporaries that have explored various stories from various perspectives, from characters with physical disabilities to those who are neurodiverse. Books are organized by authors’ last names.


100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons


Physical disability representation.

Tessa has been blinded after being in a car accident, and she doesn’t know if her vision will even return. So her grandma helps her find somebody who can help her write her poems, and he happens to have prosthetics. She initially tries to refuse his help, but they quickly become friends.

Though I’m not usually a fan of books shelved under the romance category, I really enjoyed this one! I particularly liked how it seemed to start off being overly cheerful, like seriously, Weston does seem too happy. But as the book goes on, it explores his psychology as well, which I greatly appreciated.


The Boy Who Steals Houses by C. G. Drews


Neurodiversity.

Sam just wants to find another house to temporarily stay in with his brother Avery. Even though Avery’s older, Sam feels like he has to take care of him. Then he accidentally breaks into the wrong house, one that’s full of people, and instead of getting arrested or kicked out, he makes a friend. This book is also an #ownvoices story featuring characters on the autism spectrum.

Not to mention the story actually helped me out of a bout of depression. Though it didn’t actually speak to my circumstances at the time, it was still the story I needed at that time.

A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima


Physical disability representation and neurodiversity.

These books are intense. Shoya is a boy who bullied Shoko, a partially deaf girl, in his school until she left. Years later, isolated from the rest of his classmates, he attempts to make amends. I particularly liked the way the story addressed physical disability as well as the concept of forgiveness, which is never as easy as it sounds. I’ve only read the first two Manga, but my sister and I watched the Anime, and I cried. Twice.

Since I’ve gone back to work, I’ve found it can be difficult to hear people when everybody is wearing a mask. So I started using some sign language (ASL) to communicate little things (e.g. single-file lines I dubbed “the snake” and used the snake gesture), and I’m actually thinking about learning as much ASL as I can. The only problem is that like other languages, sign language can differ from country to country.


Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl


Neurodiversity.

Martin is spending the summer in France with his mom and sister. As a teenager on the autism spectrum, he may not always understand his family, but he is doing his best to make friends at his local school. Not only are the characters stunning, but the cultural aspects are great as well. I really appreciate how the author touched on what it’s like to live in a foreign country, and how it can be difficult whether or not one is neurotypical.

If you haven’t noticed, I tend to lean toward books with autism representation. I have several family members on the spectrum, so I like to do my best to understand their perspectives. Yes, I realize you can only learn so much from fiction, but it’s like the saying goes “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” No two people are alike, and fiction is merely a tool that I like to use to help me learn more.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby


Neurodiversity.

Finn is determined to figure out what happened to Roza and why she disappeared. The only problem: he’s face-blind, and recognizing people can pose some difficulties. This kind of disability isn’t often addressed in fiction, and more often than not, I’ve seen it done poorly instead of well. But Ruby does an excellent job, and her writing style is stellar. I also like how this book has fantastical, magical-realism-like elements to it, though it can be confusing at times.

The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims


Physical disability and neurodiversity.

Sam has had to use crutches since a car accident that killed her mother and left her disabled and dealing with bouts of depression. She ends up meeting Eliot, a boy who can’t physically feel anything (Anhidrosis), by accident. As their friendship develops, Sam struggles to remember what happened during the car accident. I recently reread this one and enjoyed it just as much as the first time, though it had more swearing than I remembered. Still a good read.


Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia


Neurodiversity.

Eliza doesn’t like talking to people, so when she makes friends with Wallace, they text each other for several days before they say anything aloud. She’s also the author of a popular webcomic series, but nobody knows about her online identity, not even Wallace, who’s a huge fan. Socially awkward adventures ensue. Although my social anxiety has never been as bad as Eliza’s, I found her story to be incredibly relatable.

So there you have it! Seven great books that represent disabled characters. You might also enjoy these neurodiverse YA novels: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, A World Without You by Beth Revis, and Made You Up by Francesca Zappia.

Let’s chat! Have you read any of these? Have they made it to your TBR? Do you actively seek out books with disability representation? What are some of your favorites?

***

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Poem: Writing a Poem

I was thinking about poetry the other day—surprise, surprise. I remembered reading some book reviews by readers who claimed that certain novels in verse shouldn’t be in poetry form because, as they claimed, all the author had to do was hit enter throughout their sentences. Which just made me frustrated. What exactly does that mean? Did the reader prefer the complexities of form poetry to free verse? Did they not understand poetry? 

Sure, some stories clearly deserve to be told in verse whereas others border on the edge between fitting best in verse and prose. But poetry is often overlooked. Perhaps my two favorite things about verse is its use of metaphor and imagery. Writers can combine things in poetry that would never make sense in prose. How exciting is that?


Writing a Poem 

Poetry is more
than hitting Enter
after every other word
in a sentence.


Poetry is
playing with the upside-down rain,

dancing in the desert dunes,
singing in the tepid shower,
crying beneath the dry boughs,
screaming with the howling wind.




Poetry has
helped me find the x in an algebraic map,
reminded me how chalk and flour feel similar,
spent every last word I have to buy
a feather.



Shall we play a game?
1Three down, 2four across,
3four down, 4two across, 5five across.



Tell me one more time
how all I had to do
to avoid itching
these mosquito bites
was to hit Enter.


***


Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? Do you write poetry? Readers and writers, do you prefer form or free verse?

Similar poems: The TBR List, Silent Words, and Pile of Words

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Destination: USA, 5 Novels for a Virtual Vacation

A lot of people probably won’t be traveling this summer. I recently went to visit my grandparents because my grandma has terminal cancer, and we drove twelve-and-a-half hours in one day to minimize contact with strangers. I don’t necessarily recommend it, but you do what you have to do. The visit was rather uneventful.

For those who can’t travel, I’ve put together a bookish vacation instead. For my international readers, here is just a glimpse of a few of the states. You don’t have to read them in the order listed. You don’t even have to read them all! But if you want to give it a try, you’re welcome to!

 

 

Hawaii—Summer Blue Bird

To start out our mini bookish vacation, we’ll fly to the Aloha State—sunny Hawaii—where rainbows are a daily occurrence and the air smells like saltwater. The only thing is, life for Rumi isn’t all sunshine. Between her and her sister Lea, Rumi is the cranky one. But when Lea dies in a car accident and Rumi is sent to Hawaii for the summer to live with her aunt, Rumi is less than pleased. An exploration of grief and self, Summer Blue Bird (a YA contemporary) is perhaps the best book set in Hawaii that I’ve read yet.

 

Alaska—The Smell of Other People’s Houses

From Hawaii, we’ll take a flight back to the mainland, but not the mainland the majority live in. Nope. We’re going to Alaska! Though I’ve never actually been there, I feel like I’ve gotten a glimpse through books. The Smell of Other People’s Houses (a YA historical fiction) surprised me. At first, I didn’t think I would like it, but in the end, I liked the way the book tied in the four narratives, and the cultural exploration was equally worthwhile.

 

California to Virginia—The Someday Birds

Next up: road trip! The Someday Birds (an MG contemporary) starts out in California, then heads across Nevada up to Wyoming, then across Montana all the way to Illinois, and finally on to Virginia. Like any good road trip, there’s a spattering of setting, but more importantly, there’s excellent character development. Charlie is trying to reconcile where he really belongs when it comes to relationships all while he goes on a hunt for the birds he wanted to see with his Dad. The story is also an excellent representation of autism and OCD.

I also really like the tagline for this one: “Only 2,500 miles of fresh air, family, and chaos to go.” If that doesn’t sum up road trips, I don’t know what does!

 

Indiana—All the Bright Places

Time to backtrack a little. I know we already drove through Indiana, but it’s not like we’re going to interrupt one book with another. (I’m looking at you, The Horse and His Boy!) All the Bright Places (a YA contemporary) explores Indiana, another state I don’t think I’ve ever been to in person. Don’t let the cover deceive you though. Theodore and Violet are here not just for a school project to explore the state. They’re here to rip your heart out.

Apparently, there’s even a movie out on Netflix. That means another reread for me, and I’ll have to brace myself.

 

New York—York: The Shadow Cipher

Now that we’ve explored a glimpse of the States, we’ll end our trip in the Big Apple, New York City, but not like the one that exists in our world. York: The Shadow Cipher (an MG contemporary sci-fi) explores a New York that isn’t quite like our own, or is it? Tess, Theo, and Jaime explore their city in an attempt to solve the cipher that has stumped treasure-hunters for centuries in an attempt to save their home.

Unlike the other books, which are stand-alone’s, this one is actually a trilogy. Book three just came out, and I’m super excited!

 

Thus concludes our mini trip. I hope you enjoyed the recommendations!

 

***

 

Let’s chat! Have you read any of the books listed? Did any of them make it to your TBR? What’s one state you want to read a novel about? Have there been any books that really captured where you live?

 

Similar posts: Mini Book Reviews: From The Light at the Bottom of the World to The Art of Feeling, 7 Books with One Main Setting, and Book Review: Almost American Girl

Sunday, June 21, 2020

My Process for Writing Poetry

I’ve been talking a lot about poetry lately, but I haven’t ever really posted how I write poetry. I hope to remedy that with this post, which isn’t exactly how to guide as much as a how I write explanation. I tend to write more free verse than form poetry, so I’m not really going to talk about meter or rhyme.

And for those of you who are interested, if you haven’t already heard, I plan on releasing a poetry collection later this year, so keep an eye out for Dandelion Symphony.

 


1)   Finding a Setting

I used to think that I couldn’t write poetry unless I was inspired. Until I came to realize that the main way that I write poetry is based on a particular setting that I’ve been to. Sure, some of the poems take on a life of their own and ultimately may not be based on anywhere real, but I like to keep the setting in my mind while I write. It gives me a good basis.

I discovered this tidbit after a writing prompt sprint with a friend. We each picked a picture for the other, then wrote based on the photo. Each picture, I found, reminded me of someplace I’d been and the memories I had there, making it that much easier to write.


2)   Determining the Format

Once I have an idea what I want to write based on the where, I have to determine the how. Typically, I’ll write in free verse, discovering the poem as I go, but on occasion, I’ll start off with a particular form in mind. Iambic pentameter is perhaps my favorite. There’s something easy to fall into when it comes to ten syllables while still allowing me the freedom to start and end where I need to.

Even when I write free verse, though, I usually have some kind of structure. Sometimes, I decide to write a form poem. Or maybe I’ll pick a topic sentence that shares some themes throughout the stanzas as they evolve. Sometimes the stanzas take on a similar length. Sometimes they don’t. It all depends on the poem.

 
The first snow is fleeting,
fluttering one moment and
melted the next—

—excerpt from “The First Snow”
 

3)   Playing with Metaphor

This part is probably my favorite. In my creative writing class, I remember my professor talking about metaphor and the best way to talk about emotion without mentioning the emotion itself. For example, if I’m going to write a poem about neglect, I might write about a sunny day where my garden plants didn’t get enough water and are looking a little droopy. Or maybe if I want to write about excitement, I’ll write about the smell of coffee or the thundering or horse hoofs while horseback riding.

One of the best ways to play with metaphor is to find something that hasn’t been said that way before. If I can’t think of something completely original in all history of writing, I’ll try to think of something I’ve never written before. For example, anger is often likened to a burning fire. But what if anger was instead a river that slowly eroded its banks? Or what if fire was instead a way to transform, like how matter is converted into energy?


4)   Abandoning Clarity

One of the things I love about poetry is that it doesn’t have to make sense. Not like prose does anyway. I’ve often gotten feedback that my prose doesn’t always make sense, but I rarely get feedback that my poems are too confusing. That’s probably because the different forms have different purposes. Prose is typically for telling a story or facts, and verse is for exploring emotion and imagery. Rarely do emotions make sense, though verse can be a way to try to understand them.

 

5)   Keeping it Honest

No matter what I’m writing about, whether it be a fond memory or a made-up moment, I like to keep it as honest as possible. No place is perfect, and no memory is completely horrid. Keeping each poem honest helps keep me from being over sentimental.

Take my poem, "Romantic", for example. When visiting Venice, I noticed how all the advertisements and film would post all the beauty but leave out the trash or the alleyways. In part it makes sense. Most photographers focus on the perfect angles, but they don’t always capture the experience of being in a place. So when it comes to writing poetry, I like juxtaposing the good with the bad, the unpleasant with the pleasant.


I relish watching the glassblower
tug at the liquid fire and mold it
and pull until he sets a little red horse, solid,
on the table.

But try finding a place to park
outside the city inside a garage
where your car is no longer a car
but a sardine packed among sardines.

—excerpt from “Romantic”


Let’s chat! Any fellow poets out there? What’s your process for writing poetry? Do you prefer form or free verse?

 

***

 

Similar posts: Poetry Collection Announcement: Dandelion Symphony, 3 Types of Writers You Should Know, and The Importance of Poetry

Sunday, June 14, 2020

7 of my Go-To Authors

For a while, I didn’t used to understand what it was like to have a go-to author. I didn’t understand why people would see a new book pop up by a certain author, and they’d immediately add it to their To-Be-Read list or maybe they’d even buy it without having read it first. What madness was this?

After I read more extensively, though, I noticed certain authors starting to pop up again and again in my stack. And when I found myself in a reading slump, I’d go to the library and grab something by one of those authors even if I hadn’t even read the description. I’ve even bought books I’ve never read before and actually liked them. I broke my own rules because the books were by certain go-to authors.

This post is by no means an extensive list. I have more go-to authors. The number seven just looks good on the blog.

The following authors are organized alphabetically by last name.

 


 

1)     Akemi Dawn Bowman

Her debut novel, Starfish, was so, so good! A contemporary YA novel about Kiko who likes creating art but struggles with social anxiety. I found the story to be super relatable. The characters were well-developed, and while I didn’t want to believe narcissistic people like Kiko’s mother could exist, I have a family member like her.

Two years ago, Bowman released an equally well-written book, Summer Blue Bird that ripped my heart out. And it was set in Hawai’i! It was probably the first book I’ve read that captured the setting and culture perfectly!

I have yet to read her latest novel, Harley in the Sky, but I’m super excited! Though I haven’t actually bought any of her books yet, they’re on my list.


2)     Orson Scott Card

Like many sci-fi fans, I discovered his work through Ender’s Game. I actually saw the movie first, then read the book. I thought it was okay. Until I read the rest of Ender’s Saga where there are multiple alien species and an AI and more moral dilemmas, and I just fell in love with the series as a whole.

Though I haven’t enjoyed the The Shadow Series books half as much as the Ender’s Saga because they lean more toward political than fantastical, I still like how it explores Bean’s perspective. Ender’s Shadow in particular helped me come to terms with the fact that one doesn’t have to be the most intelligent person to make a difference and that it’s okay to accept one’s limitations. I’ll probably end up reading the rest of The Shadow Series eventually.

 

3)     C. S. Lewis

I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, but it wasn’t until college that I was introduced to his other works of fiction and nonfiction. His sci-fi trilogy is okay. Not great as far as sci-fi goes but interesting as far as a religious study. The others that I’ve really enjoyed have been The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.

In his collection of essays, God in the Dock, I really enjoyed his logical arguments. They made me think about questions I’d never asked and helped me come to terms with others I’d struggled with for a while.

The books of his that I really want to read/reread include The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and Reflections on the Psalms.

After my undergraduate degree, I went on a C. S. Lewis trip to Oxford and got to see where he lived, worked, and talked with his fellow writer friends. His life is an inspiration.

 

4)     L. Nicodemus Lyons

In college, my mom introduced me to the author and her books. I got signed copies of her first series Alliance, and read them all during midterms week and fall break. The themes and characters are great, and the amount of research that goes into each book is fantastic!

She recently finished her second series, Allegiance, and I’m super excited to read the conclusion! I feel a little bad because I’ve been struggling with e-books lately, but all the books are out in paperback now. I just have yet to but them.

 



5)     Brandon Sanderson

I was culling my TBR one day when I came across The Final Empire on Goodreads. After rereading the blurb, I thought I’d give it a try and soon found myself reading anything and everything by Sanderson. So far, I’ve stuck to stories set in the Cosmere (the Mistborn books and The Stormlight Archive) and the Skyward series. I think I’ve figured out who is the character who shows up in all of the Cosmere books, but I may have to go back and reread some of them to double check…

I’m not branching out with the rest of his books just yet because I’m waiting for the release of the untitled Skyward book 3, The Lost Metal (Mistborn, book 7), and Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archives, book 4). Seriously, Sanderson writes so many books, and some of them are doorstops. I wouldn’t be surprised if he one day wrote a book longer than Les Miserables at 655,478 words.


6)     Elizabeth Wein

Wein first introduced me to one of my favorite character tropes—female pilots. Code Name Verity has such details about flying that you just know Wein knows what she’s talking about. She’s even a pilot herself. Though Code Name Verity is by far my favorite, her other historical fiction novels Rose Under Fire and The Pearl Thief are worth reading.

Doing research for this post, I just discovered her latest historical fiction novel, The Enigma Game, comes out in November! Or it’s already out for those of you in the UK. *puppy eyes* Maybe I can get it on Book Depository now… Apparently it’s another novel featuring one of the characters from Code Name Verity, and I’m ecstatic!

 

7)     Francesca Zappia

Her debut novel Made You Up hooked me when I first picked it up. A contemporary story about a girl named Alex who struggles with schizophrenia with great themes and plot twists. Last summer, I was equally enamored with Eliza and Her Monsters, another contemporary featuring Eliza who struggles with social anxiety.

Though I wasn’t a huge fan of her latest novel, Now Entering Adamsville, as I’m not really a fan of ghost stories, I’m eager to see what she writes next!

 

***

 

Let’s chat! Who are some of your go-to authors? Have you read any books by the authors I listed? Which is your favorite? Any books join your TBR list?

 

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