Sunday, November 22, 2020

Book Review: The Magnolia Sword

“Brotherhood might be unique to men, but loyalty, devotion to friends, and a sense of fairness are not. They are the precise reasons I became a conscript in Dabao’s place. I could never have been at peace with myself knowing that it was within my power to do something for Auntie Xia and Dabao and not have done it.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—I don’t usually go for retellings. But I thought I’d give this one a chance. After all, it’s a Mulan retelling that’s strictly historical fiction written by an American author who immigrated from China as a teenager. So yeah, I was definitely interested.

I know a lot of reviewers may be familiar with Sherry Thomas already, but this is the first I’ve read by her, and I must say I am pleased. I really enjoyed her writing style, with a smattering of historical details, a pinch of setting that isn’t too overwhelming, and the subtle bits of humor.


BookThe Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
My rating: 5/5 stars
Mini description: I could do this blindfolded

The story itself starts off at a slow burn pace. For a while, I found myself wondering, “Okay, where is this really heading?” But I enjoyed it all the same, and I wanted to make the book last, so I tried to spread it over a couple weeks. Until I accidentally devoured two hundred pages in one night.

The part I particularly liked about the pacing was the travel elements. I love a good travel story where the main characters are just sick of traveling by day two because they’re so stinking saddle sore (or sore from walking, but that was not the case here). I love traveling, so I feel that in my soul.

Another element I enjoyed was the culture. I did not know that China was such a melting pot back in the 5th century, and the book helped add more to my mental historical timeline. Throughout the book, Mulan references authors like Sun Tzu and Confucius, and I just appreciate how she knows military strategy and how to sword fight and catch arrows with her bare hands while blindfolded.

As for the characters, I just love how Mulan’s character develops over the book and how the princeling becomes more and more transparent. And the interactions within their small party is just gold.

In all, I gave The Magnolia Sword 5/5 stars for excellent plot, culture, and characters. I recommend this book to readers of who enjoy young adult historical fiction. Now I want to study more of the original story of Mulan to know how close this adaptation is.

Interested in the book? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these young adult books: The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen (historical fiction with travel), Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (historical fiction with a Chinese-American protagonist), and Code Name Verity (historical fiction with spies and pilots in France during WWII).

Let’s chat! Has The Magnolia Sword made it to your TBR list yet? Have you read it? What’s your favorite historical retelling?



Similar book reviews: The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Beneath Wandering Stars, and The Bird and the Blade

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Self Publishing Poetry: A Glimpse into the Making of Dandelion Symphony

Hello, dear readers!

It’s been almost two months since Dandelion Symphony came out, and I’m here today to tell you more about my actual publishing journey. I talked a bit about it in my interview with Alicia Canet on her blog, Midgard’s Writers, but today I’m going to go more into the finer details.

A Poetry Collection vs. Novelettes

As you may know, I’ve self-published two books by this point. I started off with a mini fantasy series, Last of the Memory Keepers, and my latest book is my poetry collection, Dandelion Symphony.

What is the difference between the two? Target audience for one. I wrote the LMK series to be a fast-paced adventure for readers who don’t have a lot of reading time on their hands. DS, on the other hand, is nonfiction and isn’t meant to be read in one sitting, though it’s short enough that it could be.

Another difference: format. You can buy both books in e-book and print form. Only, the LMK series comes in individual e-books and a print collection, whereas DS is an individual book in print and digital.

Last but not least is experience. This time around, I know what to expect from sales and how to market better. I incorporated a lot more feedback than before (thanks again to my beta readers, editor, and proofreaders!), and I had a ton of fun with my blog tour. Now, I’ve even set it up so purchasing signed copies is super easy. All you have to do is use Square. When shipping, I’ve even learned to use media mail (which is cheaper!) and to add insurance.


Audio and Visuals

Did you know poetry was originally meant to be read aloud? Sometimes, it still is. When it came to reviewing my poems, I read them aloud to some of my beta readers, which helped me figure out what sounded right and what didn’t. Though you can enjoy the book while reading silently, each poem has been sound good too. At some point, I think it would be fun to put together an audiobook, but I’d have to do more research first.

When it comes to the visuals for DS, I had a lot of fun! First, I changed the format of some of my poems, which is always fun to play with. Then, I commissioned an artist to do some sketches based on some of my favorite places in Europe. I seriously wish I could have commissioned each and every one of my favorite places, but then I’d be broke. The ones I did select correlate with the seasons and themes of their sections.


Speaking of commissions, this time around, I had an easier time of figuring out how to find the right people. First, I asked on Twitter if anybody knew where to find some great artists for interior sketches. While I received a ton of offers from artists directly, I also got recommended to check out Fiverr, which I ultimately utilized for both my interior artist and cover designer.

I really like the way the site made it easy to search for artists and the plethora of options. I actually had a hard time choosing between two interior artists, but I ultimately went with the one who’s style I liked the best. Though the site had some minor glitches, posting details for my commission was relatively easy to work with.

Fiverr itself takes a small portion of the commission fee to keep up the website, but creating a profile and browsing is free. At the end, after I approved the final submission, I had the option to tip the artist, which I did and highly recommend. If you like the work you receive, leave a tip! Then, both the buyer (myself) and the seller leave reviews of each other, which is awesome. Though I’ve never sold anything on it, from what I gather, the site is both buyer and seller friendly.


Formatting and Publishing

Last but not least came the dreaded formatting. Dreaded for me anyway. I don’t know why I hate it so much. Maybe because it seems like I’d spend five minutes fixing one problem, upload the manuscript to double-check it, wait for it to load, get up, grab some tea, maybe a snack, come back. It’s still loading. Open Pinterest. It’s finally loaded. Check to see if the mistake is fixed. It is! Then I find five more.

So I repeat the process all over again. Or maybe the problem isn’t fixed, and I spend the next half hour tweaking the same thing over and over until I get it right. Most of the tweaking was adding a space or a tab to get the poems’ shapes right. Writing poetry is fun. Formatting poetry for publication? Not so much.

Yeah, it’s a little painful, especially since I don’t have an actual formatting software. Microsoft Word isn’t exactly known for its e-book capabilities. I actually had to call up one of my friends who worked in graphic design to try to figure out how to get some of my pictures to show up in the actual e-book.

In the end, I got it all worked out before my self-imposed deadline, and the final book looks great, if I may say so myself. I had a lot of help along the way, and I couldn’t be more grateful. The best part of self-publishing? Holding the final copy in your hands and smelling it.

To wrap up, if you’re ever considering self-publishing your own book, here are just a few roles I’d recommend looking into. Some of the roles you can fill yourself, but some require a second pair of eyes:

  • critique partners (mandatory)
  • beta readers (mandatory)
  • sensitivity readers (depends on the topic)
  • interior artist (optional)
  • interior designer (optional)
  • cover designer (optional)
  • editor (mandatory)
  • proofreader (mandatory)
  • marketer (optional)
  • book bloggers (optional)

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed reading about my self-publishing journey. If you haven’t already grabbed your copy of Dandelion Symphony, you can do so now!


Barnes & Noble (e-book)

Amazon (e-book and print)

Signed copy (US only)




Let’s chat! Any other indie authors out there? What’s your favorite part of the publishing process? Have you read Dandelion Symphony yet? If so, what did you think?

Similar posts: Dandelion Symphony Release Day!, Dandelion Symphony Blog Tour, and 3 Types of Writers You Should Know

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Buy the Book

One of my first posts was on why you should always carry a book with you. I still abide by this philosophy. After all, you never know when you’re going to have five minutes to get in a couple pages or if somebody’s going to end up at an appointment, only to drag you along with them, and now you’re bored. Always bring a book.

What I haven’t talked about directly, though I’ve certainly put a lot of thought into and hinted at here and there is book buying. Now, I come from a military brat family. That means for my whole childhood, I’ve had to move around a lot. As a result, I’ve had to keep my books to a minimum. While I may have more than the average person, I don’t own as many books as your avid readers. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been trying to change that, honing my personal library. Here are just some of my motivations.



Have you ever heard the phrase: I have enough books to survive the zombie apocalypse? For me, it’s true. Owning a bunch of books that I’d previously enjoyed helped when during the COVID shutdown I ran out of library books. I’d been preparing for this my whole life! Ultimately, though I probably wouldn’t be satisfied reading the same material over and over. And over. I’m like my dragon. I like shiny, new things.

All the same, I love revisiting my favorites. It’s like talking to an old friend. People who think rereading is ridiculous have obviously never watched the same movie twice. Or listened to a song again. Or told their favorite story more than once. That would just be ridiculous and repetitive. Why would you want to do that?

I actually don’t buy books I’ve never read before, with a few exceptions, because I’ve been disappointed all too often. That and I read far too much. But, if I happen to read a book and thoroughly enjoy it… If I give it 4-5 stars… If I like the author’s previous work… If I know there will be more in the series that I must read, I’ll go out and buy the book even if I just returned the library copy.


The Aesthetic

If this one sounds a little vain, that’s because it is. I know you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover, but sometimes the covers are just pretty (see my post Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover). Thank you, cover designers! Even if you can’t afford to buy all hardcovers and all you own is a bunch of used paperbacks with loved spines, it’s still delightful to see them sitting up on a shelf all cozy together.

Why do I have books 1-7, then 9? (bottom left) Book 9 is the second series. 
I have the rest in e-books and am working on obtaining the collection in print.

Supporting Authors and Bookstores

Did you know that buying books supports authors? Of course, there’s also leaving book reviews and checking out their books from the library, but sales in publishing can help with an author’s career. Every now and then, I’ll branch out and buy a debut book that I’ve never read before. The books don’t always suit my taste, but at least I know I supported the authors.

Not only does buying books support the authors, but it also supports bookstores. I like shopping at indie bookstores, but when they’re not available to me, I’ll shop at your good ol’ brick and mortar Barnes & Noble (or Waterstones in the UK). I’m not a huge fan of Amazon, though I do like its subsidiary Book Depository. I’ll only buy books from them for three main reasons. 1) The book is only available on Amazon/Book Depository. 2) I’m living overseas and shipping from a specific bookstore is difficult/impossible. 3) I have a gift card, and I want to support indie authors.

There you have it! Just a few of the reasons I like buying books. I realize other readers may have different motivations, but those are mine.

Let’s chat! What are some of the reasons you’ll buy books? Do we share any in common?



Similar posts: Are Book Dragons a Dying Breed?; Pre-ordering, Boarding the Hype Train, & Letting it Pass; and Bring the Book

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Poem: The Smell of Earth

When you think of the word “Earth,” what do you think of? If you’re a sci-fi fan or into astronomy like me, you might think of the planet, with its big blue oceans and smattering of continents buried under white clouds. Or if you’re into gardening, you might think of the green plants that go into the brown soil—or sometimes reddish-brown depending on where you live.

For this poem, I decided to flip my own expectations, and focus on a color I don’t necessarily associate with Earth—the color white. That’s the fun thing about poetry, I suppose, turning expectations on their heads.


The Smell of Earth

white, the way the worm 
writhes beneath my fingertips 
submersing young roots




Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? Any fellow gardeners out there? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Earth?

Similar poems: Cathedral CavernsCopper Coated Autumn Leaves, and Down South