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 Color 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 (Audio)

Reader's Choice Poem of 2018: Best Imagery

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.


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!

I look forward to hearing from you!

2020 Update: I am no longer looking for guest bloggers.