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.”

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
—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”

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

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Poem: Early Spring

Weird weather can be fun, like when you get an early spring in January and the daffodils pop up and then you get sunburned because why wouldn’t you want to be outside?

On the other hand, it can be annoying. February sees winter return. And then March sees spring. And then the first day of spring is celebrated under a layer of snow.

I just can’t wait for spring to officially be here so I can start gardening again. I already planted my cucumbers indoors and their gravitating toward the window. Even the plants want to be outside.

Until then, I’ll have to suffice with my houseplants, tend my indoor veggies, and think on the warmer days.

Early Spring

I want to call it spring, the way
the sun
             like dissolved
          snow dustings
while the bees zip
            v e
        o          r
       the fence.

Yesterday I donned by trench coat,
turning up my collar to the blistering
Today I opened the doors
                                                let the breeze dance
      for a spell
          as I knelt
on the porch
to trim
winter’s rot
revealed like toys hidden
under a blanket
now melted


Let’s chat! What’s your favorite season? Did you have an early or late spring this year? Or was it on time? Do you have any plans for this season?