Sunday, January 28, 2018

Book Review: The Beast of Talesend

Part-Indiana Jones, part-Sherlock Holmes, Nick Beasley is the best detective for denouncing false magic, until an encounter with a very real magical item causes him to change his mind… and his form.

This year, I’ll be challenging myself to post more book reviews, particularly focusing on new releases and books I enjoy that don’t get enough attention.*

*Last year, I tried out a monthly post on Character Types, and it just wasn’t working for me. I ended up procrastinating such posts and avoiding them where I could. So instead of writing about content I don’t care for (though I still like characters!), I thought I’d focus on something I’m excited to write, like book reviews!

Book: The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Shultz
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale Inspired
My rating: 4/5 stars
One-word description: Witty

I’m not a fan of fairy tale retellings. Before you freak out, please allow me to explain. I grew up on fairy tales. I don’t know them all, but I feel like I know a lot of them pretty well. So I guess you could say I’m not a fan of leftover plots. I don’t care for leftovers from my fridge (and I like food!), so why would I want to read the same story again? (This doesn’t apply to rereads. Rereads are fun.)

The Beast of Talesend, however, is not your average retelling. As the author put it in a recent interview, it’s more of a fairy tale inspired story rather than a direct retelling. After all, the events in this novel take place long after all the fairy tales themselves. This story in particular draws from Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, and several others.

Not only is the cover aesthetically pleasing, but the story was an enjoyable read. The characters and the chapter titles are witty. I also like how developed and different the characters were. Cordelia is rather self-confident and driven while Nick is a skeptic with extensive knowledge about artifacts. In fact, his respect for artifacts like books and—even more—his determination to protect his brother make him incredibly likeable.

But there were a couple of formatting choices that I found odd. Like why wasn’t the map bigger? I can hardly read it even with my reading glasses on. I have a hunch the e-book is better quality in this sense, but a vertical map might have been easier to read. Just so you know, I’m not docking stars for formatting. I’ve read plenty of traditionally published books with issues. (Like that one time I read a misprinted book that had 50 pages missing. Ahem. *cough* I digress.)

My only complaint is that I wish the story were longer. There could have been more details, but then again, I’m drawn to long and wordy stories. Perhaps too much so. This book was much shorter than I had been expecting. At least there’s a sequel!

That being said—the ending has me hooked! With some hints that the Jabberwock may make a later appearance, I am now seriously concerned for the rest of the characters. *shudders* I can’t wait to read the next book in the Beaumont & Beasley Series, The Tomb of the Sea Witch.

I gave The Beast of Talesend 4/5 stars for a great and creative plot and witty and well-developed characters. Reminiscent of The Tenth Kingdom, I would recommend this to readers who enjoy fantasy and fairy tales but don’t necessarily want to read the exact same story again.

Does The Beast of Talesend spark your interest? Have you read it already? You might also enjoy these great books: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Where the Woods Grow Wild by Nate Philbrick, and This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab.

Let’s chat! Has The Beast of Talesend made it to your to-be-read list yet? Anybody out there read it? Have any fantastical book recommendations?


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Editor vs. Anxiety

Of all the stages in creating a story, editing gets a lot of mixed opinions. Writers either like it, or they don’t. Many even complain about editing. But I’m one of those strange writers who likes the editing process the best. Brainstorming is fun, sure, but I quickly get bored with it and just want to write. Then writing a rough draft can be fun, especially when I’m in the zone, but half the time I am consciously aware that my style or my dialogue or whatever stinks.

Editing allows me to combine the elements I enjoy most—writing through rewrites and clear prose. When I see something wrong with a story, I sit down, or pace, or go for a bike ride, then fix it. Sometimes it’s a challenge, but that’s what makes it all the more enjoyable. I like it when something, particularly a story, challenges me. Life would be too boring otherwise.

But every now and then, life gets difficult. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes, the stress threatens to overwhelm me. Often times, dealing with stress is not so easy as cutting down a word count or fixing some character development. It’s much, much more difficult.

Nearly two years ago, I missed the opportunity to celebrate my brother’s birthday with him because I was studying in England while he was studying in the United States. I went to fencing that particular February evening without my usual enthusiasm to stab things. (When it comes to sports or reading or whatever, I’m either all in or I don’t care. As a result, I scared all my fellow beginners.) That particular day, I lacked motivation and form. As a result, I strained my Achilles tendon and spent the next month limping everywhere.

On another bad day, I was moping in my room about my inability to walk without pain (but I could still bike just fine). So I put on a movie to try to take my mind off myself. Of course, I picked a particularly sad one and had a good cry. Finally, some pity that wasn’t self-pity. I can’t exactly say that was the exact moment, but I soon realized I needed help, and not just for my ankle. Over Easter Break, I learned that I was struggling with depression and anxiety and sought help.

Flash forward to last January. My dad took me on trip to go skiing in the Black Forest per my request. The snow blanketed the evergreen trees, and sometimes enveloped me in a white out so I could hardly see more than ten feet in front of me. When I first got off the ski lift and surveyed the slope from the top, the clouds cleared enough for me to catch a glimpse of a golden sun amid all the white.

But what if I lost control of my skis, flew down the mountain, and slammed into a tree?

My breath caught. And I froze.

I started hyperventilating, and my yellow glasses fogged up. (Never wear yellow glasses skiing, by the way. The snow kept blowing under the glassing and getting into my eyes. Go with ski goggles.) My dad, who was just a bit further down the slope, turned back to me and said, “Come on, Azelyn. You can’t stand there forever.”

Of course, not. I came there to ski, not have a panic attack on the top of a mountain. So I swallowed my fear, angled my skis downhill, and inched down the slope, bit by bit. It was painstaking work, and I took a break in the ski lodge before noon to settle my nerves with a cup of tea and copy of Moby-Dick that fit in my pocket. After lunch, I had enough courage to follow Dad at an adequate speed down some more challenging slopes.

I never ran into a tree or went flying down a slope, but I fell down. A lot.

Of course, some panic attacks are easier to get past than others. Physical situations, like standing atop a ski slope are easier for me to overcome than social anxiety. With an encouraging word from my dad, I can work up the courage to overcome my fear of heights, but encouragement doesn’t always help with my fear of people.

Last summer, I had a panic attack when somebody mentioned I should behave with more assertion, “like I did in England.” Sure, I may have learned how to talk to my professors by preparing questions about the text before class. But I had a terrible time making friends, and I hardly ever talked to my classmates.

It is one thing to say, “No, I can do this.” And ski down a mountain even though the fear is lurking in the forefront of my mind. It’s another thing entirely to have the fear of the inability to befriend people constantly lurking in my mind.

No matter how many friends I do or don’t make where I currently live, no matter how many half-decent conversations I manage to hold, no matter how many patrons I help while I’m volunteering at the library, I can’t change the friends who stopped talking for no reason.

I can’t change the way I didn’t hang out with my peers after fencing and went straight back to my room.

I can’t go back to England for the same studying experience.

But I can take advantage of opportunities today.

I can be genuine and kind to the people I meet now.

Recently, I was attending the writer’s group at my local library where I met a fellow writer who was querying literary agents. So we got to talking about our stories, and I asked him if he had an editor look over his novel yet. He said he hadn’t, so we exchanged contact information, and I said I could put him in touch with some editors I knew.

Then I got to thinking—I’m an editor. I’ve worked on books of my own before, studied literature, worked as an editor for my school’s newspaper, taught English, and worked with professional editors. Why not offer to edit the book myself? I wanted to go into editing eventually. Why not today?

So I sent him an e-mail offering to edit his novel myself, and we set up a meeting to discuss a contract. Since then, I’ve finished my first round of edits and set up an editing page for other writers looking for an editor. My specialties include Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction with select Adult Fiction, and my preferred genres include fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction, and contemporary.

Update (2019): I am currently unavailable to offer editing services as I re-prioritize my work and writing.

Editing isn’t just a way for me to make money. It’s a pleasure. It’s a way for me to deal with stress. It’s a God-given gift, a way for me to deal with something in a life where some things can’t be fixed so easily.

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had a panic attack. Maybe it was six months ago. I don’t know. I don’t care either. But I would be lying if I said anxiety doesn’t affect me. Sometimes it does. But I can’t let my anxiety, whether social or otherwise, rule me.

Sometimes life is like reading a book, you have to take chances if you want to get anywhere. So start today. Take a chance. You may fail. And that’s okay. Failure is fine.

But what if you succeed? You may surprise yourself.

Let’s chat! Any fellow readers out there who struggle with anxiety? Remember, you’re not alone.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

2018 Reading Resolution

Let’s talk about books! Last year I set my goal on Goodreads to read at least 75. Halfway through the year, I realized I was reading too fast and upped my goal to 100. I ended up reading 109. Whoops. So I accidentally completed one of the goals on my bucket list in reading 100 books in one year.

This year, instead of challenging myself further, I’m actually going to cut back. That’s not to say I won’t read a ton, but the pressure to read 75+ books is actually incredibly overwhelming. That’s at least a book-and-a-half a week, and once you set the goal to 100, that’s a book nearly every three days. While possible, I want to set aside time for those difficult (*cough* boring *cough*) books.

So instead of a goal involving the number of books, I’ll be setting a goal involving the type of books I want to read. Then I’ll take those types, add them up, and set it as my goal on Goodreads because I like seeing the book collection and statistics at the end of the year.

1) At least one poetry collection. (Not a novel in verse.)

A while back, I wrote a post on The Importance of Poetry. It wasn’t until college that I really discovered the joys of reading and writing poems because before then, I hadn’t found any that I particularly liked. Since then, I have been making an effort to create more poetry, as is evidence from the whole page I have on poetry and my monthly poems.

Last year, I finished a short collection, Ode to London and started reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I can’t say I actually finished the latter, but it’s still on my shelf, waiting for me.

2) Two rereads.

I enjoy visiting my local library, but I also like buying books. If a particular story stuck with me, or was indie published and I wanted to support the author, I’ll go out and buy the book. That and I just like books. But what’s the pointing in owning a bunch of books I once enjoyed, only to never read them again? There’s no point.

It’s time to endeavor to read books I’ve enjoyed so much that I went out and bought a copy. Just a couple I’m currently eyeing include Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. I know I just read them a couple summers ago, but they’re sooooo good!

3) Three nonfiction books.

My brother isn’t much of a reader, but when he does read, he sure shows me up on reading nonfiction. While I insist on reading about dragons and con artists because I find them interesting, my brother would pick up books on wherever we’d be traveling next so he could give an accurate report on his vlog. I may not read the same types of books, but I don’t just want to read fiction.

For this goal, I will not be counting poetry or plays, even though they’re sorted with the nonfiction section at the library. No, I’ll be looking for something more along the lines of a biography or a how-to. Just a couple books on my To-Be-Read List include The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, and The Art of War.

4) Four classics. (Hey, I’m sensing a pattern!)

Books written within the last 100 years are fun to read, but classics can be too, even though some have been written within the last 100 years. (Can we just establish what a classic is, exactly? I’ve been wondering about this definition for years. What determines if a book is a classic or not? Perhaps another post for another time.)

Sometimes I’m baffled by the types of books that became classics. I didn’t care for The Great Gatsby. And I still don’t understand what is going on in The Sound and the Fury. Honestly, I don’t understand most American literature. English literature all the way! I may or may not be biased…

That being said, many times, classics tend to surprise me. I go into the book usually knowing nothing about it, and there I find a wonderful story.

5) Five indie-published books.

As an indie author myself, I figure it’s only fair to read what other indie authors have written. And some of those books can be amazing, let’s be honest. My favorite indie-published book I read last year being Where the Woods Grow Wild by Nate Philbrick. The narrative swept me away, and I forgot that I was even reading so I finished the book in two days.

A couple indie books I am particularly looking forward to include The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Shultz and Embassy by S. Alex Martin.

6) One book published before 1800. (Die, pattern!)

Yes, I realize 1800 is a very specific date. But most of the books I’ve been reading since I’ve graduated from grad school are recent releases. The latest books are important, I won’t deny it, especially for those interesting in publishing. It’s good to know the latest trends. But the old books are important too. They laid the groundwork for fiction as we know it today. It would be a shame to ignore them.

I’m currently trying to work up the courage to check out Le Morte d’Arthur. I wrote an essay on the first book when I was studying for my MA, and I checked out like, four different copies and decided to bike with them all AT ONCE. Never again. Le Morte MY ARMS.

7) One book over 1,000 pages long.

Cutting back on my ambitions, am I? Hmm, maybe not.

I thoroughly enjoy long books. There’s nothing like sitting down with a volume you have to hold in two hands (or rest it on an armrest/table?) and hope it doesn’t fall on your face when you’re lying on your back. That and I like the idea that a good book will last longer than a week.

In 2016, it took me eight days to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (1,006 pages). Yes, I know I’m insane. But 100 pages a day is pretty manageable. Last year, it took me two-and-a-half months to finish Les Miserables (1,232 pages). How long do you think it will take me to finish War and Peace at approximately 1,392 pages?

In total, my goal this year is to read 17 books. Sure, I’ll probably read more. But this year, I want to focus on the type of books I want to read instead of the number. Quality over quantity.

Let’s chat! Do you have any bookish New Year’s resolutions? What’s your goal for reading this year? Are there any book types you want to read more of?


Literary references: Ode to London edited by Jane McMorland Hunter, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, John Donavan’s In a Different Key: The Story of Autism, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Nathan PhilbrickWhere the Woods Grow WildKyle Robert Shultzs The Beast of TalesendS. Alex Martins Embassy, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Poem: Silent Words

I’ve always been more of a thinker than a talker, an introvert than an extrovert. But despite all this, there are times I long to speak and converse, to share a story with somebody and to make somebody feel as deeply as I do. Maybe it’s not always possible, but it’s a dream, nonetheless.

It’s one of my jokes that, in my family, my siblings use up my word quota. On a given day, I say maybe a hundred words to their six or seven thousand. (So what if I’m being a little dramatic? No, I don’t actually go around counting people’s words!) But when it comes to writing, I can use thousands of words at once. Writing is my means of expression.

But in a digital world where there are hundreds of writers across the globe, sometimes it feels like I’m writing to the void, the nameless statistics on the internet. No, this isn’t a criticism to you, my dear reader. It’s merely a self-reflection. Often times, I put too much emphasis on wanting to be heard instead of the act of creating itself. This poem is a reflection of the act of creation, of feelings of loneliness, of telling a story, and ultimately, of letting go of self-conceit.

Silent Words

I step out into the night,
toes sinking in a bed of moss,
arms chilled by the moisture hanging in the air,
cradling my words in my hands.

I brought you a symphony—
the music to your eyes,
as the pages flood with letters
and emotions swirl like grains of sand in a full moon tide.
So close your eyes, close your eyes.
Let me tell a story of words that never die.

I wove my words with cobwebs,
strung them up with 550 cord,
and pricked my fingers with a pen.
Though even this novel’s not all that I have,
it tugs like a tether,
it drags like an anchor.
I hold tight, yet I long for the day,
when a whisper will say—
it’s time to let go.

But even the crickets have gone away,
to sing another day,
and the half-drowsed bullfrog
utters a croak.
Would that he weren’t the only one
that spoke.

But the world’s not empty,
though my words ring hollow
in the night.

My only audience—
the bullfrog, the waning moon,
the sliver of my heart
that bounds like a sprite
at some whisper, some word—
hold on one more day—
it’s going to be all right.


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Let’s chat! What is one of your means of expression? Do you ever feel like you’re speaking to the void? What’s one of the ways you deal with loneliness?

Similar poems: Starlight, The Muse, and Lost as a Leaf