Personal, Publications, Writing

Writing Updates: Winter’s Cry to Be Reprinted in May and Some Personal News

In the midst of all this Coronavirus craziness, I haven’t had time to update my blog at all – and definitely not with the bright spot of news I recently received!

My short story, “Winter’s Cry,” is being republished by The Magazine of History and Fiction in May! It was previously published by The Copperfield Review in 2012.

“Winter’s Cry” is a short story set in the mountains of Colorado in the winter of 1890. Short on cash to fund his upcoming wedding, a young man accepts a position as a ranch hand. But as an unusually harsh winter descends, his friendship with the owner’s young daughter is put to the test when wolves close in on the ranch.

In other writing news, I’ve finished two new short stories since the beginning of the year. I have one more I’m working on then I’ll start writing my next book. Looking forward to starting a new big project!

And in personal news, I have an announcement…I got engaged in February!

My fiancee surprised me at home after we went downtown to celebrate a late Valentine’s Day! We are planning on a wedding in 2021.

 

Fiction, Historical

Treasure of the Blue Whale

Treasure of the Blue Whale by Steven Mayfield

In this whimsical, often funny, Depression-era tale, young Connor O’Halloran decides to share a treasure he’s discovered on an isolated stretch of Northern California beach. Almost overnight, his sleepy seaside village is comically transformed into a bastion of consumerism, home to a commode with a jeweled seat cover, a pair of genuinely fake rare documents, a mail-order bride, and an organ-grinder’s monkey named Mr. Sprinkles. But when it turns out that the treasure is not real, Connor must conspire with Miss Lizzie Fryberg and a handful of town leaders he’s dubbed The Ambergrisians to save their friends and neighbors from financial ruin. 

(I received a free copy of this book from the publicist in exchange for an honest review)

Bored at home? Uninterested in the books you already have? Looking for something to brighten up these long days of quarantine?

Friends, I have found it! Treasure of the Blue Whale is that book!

I went into this book not expecting the pure delight I found inside. I started reading it during the early days of quarantine in California and soon found myself looking forward to being done with my work each day so I could go back to the book.

Treasure of the Blue Whale is a fun, delightful book that presents an escape to simpler times. To the America of yesteryear. To a time before our social media feeds were swamped with news about Coronavirus. To the nostalgia of long-ago childhood.

This book is quirky, light, and fun while somehow needling the simple truths about life and our human existence. The narrator, Connor O’Halloran, narrates this tale from the end of his life. So while the events of the story take places when Connor was just ten years old, the displacement of the narrator allows us to see things unfold both through the eyes of a child and the much wiser adult who has had decades to reflect on them.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot for fear that I’ll ruin the magic of it for you (I already sliced out half of the back cover copy which oversells the story IMO). Just do yourself a favor and pick a copy of this utterly charming book when it comes out on April 1st!

The publicist is also planning a livestream launch party on April 2nd – click here to join in on the fun.

 

Anthology, Personal, Publications, Writing

Cover Reveal: Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem Anthology

Before Christmas I shared that the story I’d submitted to the Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem Anthology had been accepted! Today I’m excited to share the cover of the anthology which will be released this summer!

The anthology was developed for the Publishing MA at Western Colorado University and is being published by WordFire Press. Edited by Kevin J. Anderson, it includes new stories from Jonathan Maberry, Fran Wilde, Rick Wilber, David Gerrold, Steve Rasnic Tem, and others…including me! The anthology is expected to be out in July 2020. I am looking forward to the release and am delighted that my short story, “Hyde Park,” will be included!

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Reviews, Young Adult

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

I am a big fan of the Russian classics. I’ve read a good amount of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chesnokov. I even took a Russian literature class in college focused exclusively on Chesnokov. So in my opinion, The Bear and the Nightingale is everything you love (or maybe love to hate?) about the Russian classics, reimagined for the modern reader.

The Bear and the Nightingale is an incredibly atmospheric novel. It puts you deep into the snows of rural Russia, into a world where Christianity is warring with the old gods and old traditions. Where patriarchy is alive and well and women have little choices beyond marriage or taking the veil. In the midst of this is Vasilisa – Vasya. A strong-willed teenage girl with witchy magic who’ll do whatever it takes to save the ones she loves.

As I mentioned, this novel is incredibly atmospheric and feels like an old Russian novel reincarnated. That means the story at times is languid and utterly unhurried. The names are very Russian and difficult to follow if you’re not familiar with patronymics and the many, many nicknames each person accrues over a lifetime. But the writing is stunningly beautiful, the plot concept inventive, the setting immersive, and Vasya absolutely the kind of heroine you can root for. Also, can we talk about the gorgeous cover art?!

The first of three books, I have the sense that The Bear and the Nightingale may serve as a lengthy prologue for the story Arden is weaving. At the end of this first book, most plot points are not so much resolved as they are cracked open. A door to the real story Arden wishes to tell. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in the Winternighttrilogy and seeing if my prediction is correct!

Have you read the Russian classics? Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? Let me know what you think below!

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Mystery, Paranormal, Reviews

The Girl With Ghost Eyes

The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M.H. Borosan

It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been on the hunt for possible comp titles for Shadow of the Magician in historical fiction. That means I’ve been deep diving on Amazon and Goodreads to find atypical novels of historical fiction to read and consider.

Of course, saying The Girl With Ghost Eyes is an atypical novel is the understatement of the decade. The Girl With Ghost Eyes is a wonderfully weird, intoxicating blend of Chinese myths and legends, ghosts, kung fu, and female empowerment set in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century.

This book was a fun ride from start to finish. I had to put it down when I went to Colorado for Christmas since I chose to bring (and finish!) Kingdom of Ash instead, but once I was back home, I could scarcely stop reading it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read and is absolutely delightful. I really hope someone makes it into a movie or tv show in the near future.

But aside from being a lot of fun, the history feels real, visceral, and well-researched. Reading through the author’s note at the back, I get the sense the author knows his stuff and so bends the facts of history/story/culture with a careful, precise hand to tell this compelling story.

I’ve already picked up the second book in the series to read, The Girl With No Face, which just came out in October. I’m looking forward to tucking into that as well, though after that’s done I’ll be stuck waiting for the next one to come out!

Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews

Kingdom of Ash

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7) by Sarah J. Maas

Aelin Galathynius has vowed to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. The knowledge that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, but her resolve is unraveling with each passing day…

With Aelin captured, friends and allies are scattered to different fates. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever. As destinies weave together at last, all must fight if Erilea is to have any hope of salvation.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how long it took me to finish this book.
A LOT embarrassed actually.

I started the book after I got it in October 2018 and finished it….on the last day of 2019.

Yes, it took me over a year to finish this book.

No, it wasn’t because I didn’t like it. I think it was partly not wanting to finish the series, partly the fact the book was almost a thousand pages long, and partly because Sarah J. Maas’ writing often makes me stay up reading way past my bedtime. Since sleep was at a premium this year, I didn’t often pick up Kingdom of Ash to read before bed.

But I DID finish it.

And I loved it. It was a great end to the series and I was utterly satisfied with the way all the major storylines and arcs wrapped up. It’s a big job, concluding a series this large and sprawling. But Sarah J. Maas delivered!

If you’re on the fence about starting this series, I recommend giving it a try if you can commit to reading the first three books before stopping. The third book is where the story really took off for me personally and from that point forward, I knew I’d be finishing the series. It is a lot of books and a lot of pages, but it’s worth it. There’s a reason so many people are obsessed with this series!

Personal

Today I Am Thirty

3-0.

Three decades.

Today, I am thirty.

I don’t think I greeted twenty with nearly as much reverence as I do turning thirty today. I’m sure at twenty I was just impatient to get to twenty-one and then to twenty-two so I could graduate college and start my life.

The beginning of this year brought us the ten year challenge and everyone’s nostalgic trip back in time. I held onto mine, knowing I’d really want to do it today instead.

Thirty Things I Did Between 2009-2019

-Committed to my writing major at UCSD and became a film studies minor. Best decisions ever! I remember the remaining years of college as the time my creative well was the most fulfilled. Still miss it.
-Made many new wonderful friends.
-Moved into my first apartment with the best roommate.
-Had my heart broken.
-Started IsleofBooks.com as a book review blog and it’s still going today, though the content has evolved over the years.
-Got the second coolest job I’ve ever had helping do archival research for a book.
-Graduated from college.
-Ran an open mic night at UCSD for a year.
-Got my first real job.
-Met and fell in love with my soul mate.
-Moved into my first apartment alone.
-Became a manager for the first time.
-Discovered several professional passions.
-Moved into my first house alone.
-Got my California real estate license.
-Wrote, sold, and published several short stories, poems, and lots of non-fiction pieces to various publications.
-Found first one writing group then another which tremendously helped improve my writing.
-Got an Honorable Mention for a story in a writing contest.
-Had a story come out in a physical book.
-Joined a book club like I always wanted.
-Acquired a dog, two cats, and another horse. These animals really stack up!
-Traveled to two new countries and several new cities as I committed to visiting at least one new place every year.
-Attended many professional conferences both inside and outside San Diego.
-Invested tremendously in my own mental health and personal growth.
-Learned to travel alone.
-Joined a networking group.
-Attended the weddings of many of my childhood best friends and watched them welcome babies (with more on the way!)
-Celebrated five years at a job, the longest I worked anywhere.
-Decided to leave my job and start my own business.
-Started that business and 1.5 years later, we’re still going full steam into 2020! We’ve expanded outside of California and have worked with people in sixteen states and counting.

And tonight I am heading to Belize for a quick vacation with my boyfriend and some friends. Starting my next decade in a new country, checking one more place off the travel bucket list.

And because of course no significant milestone birthday should be without a list of at least a handful of things I’ve learned over the years, here are the five most important lessons I’ve gleaned from three decades of life:

1. Time is Your Most Precious Resource

From the moment we’re born, the clock is running. Time is dwindling down. We can’t pause it, freeze it, rewind it, slow it down, or create more of it. All we can do is make choices on how it’s spent and continuously reallocate it. That’s it.

2. Relationships With People Matter the Most

What does it take to achieve any level of success? If you ask me, it’s learning how to build relationships with others. And not just to serve your own goals. Treat people well, do your best for them even when it inconveniences you, remember them in all life’s little moments, and you’ll never want for a friend or an ally, no matter how dark the night.

3. Self-Awareness is Key

Before you can do anything for anyone, including yourself, you have to know who you are, what makes you tick, what energizes you, and what wears you down. If you pour the time in to understanding yourself, learning to trust your gut, and recognizing the little hints that your life is out of alignment, you will unlock your own personal guide to being your best self for you and for others. But if you don’t do the work of figuring yourself out first, you’ll always be left guessing at what you need to perform at level ten.

4. Self-Care is Not Selfish

Noticeably absent on this list is my list of goals for the next ten years (and beyond!) of my life. Yes, I have them. No, I’m not sharing them here today. All except for one. I’m declaring 2020 the Year of Me because I’ve finally internalized that self-care is not selfish. See point three of knowing what you need to operate as your best self. Then read it again. Slowly. Backwards. Underline. Make notes in the margins. Self-awareness is key and self-care is not selfish.

5. You Only Live Once, So Why Not Do The Most?

I’m known for going above and beyond. For doing too much. For engaging in activities that aren’t the most logical on paper. Things that don’t scale. Taking the harder route to avoid doing the easy thing. Partially that’s how I’m wired and partially it’s because I often don’t see the cleanest route to get somewhere. And while that often leaves me feeling overwhelmed, tired, and used up, it also often leads to the most magical moments of serendipity. Many wonderful relationships, opportunities, and experiences came because I went further down a path than I should have gone, said yes to more things than was healthy for my mental health, and sometimes made poor decisions with my time. I can point to many moments where something I regretted saying yes to in the moment (and did it anyway) led me to a wonderful new client or referral. A decision that made no sense to others (and actually, even to me) put me on a path to meet someone with just the piece of information I needed for an answer I was holding on my heart. Those things I thought I didn’t have time for (and actually didn’t) were usually the gateway to breathtaking moments of peace and serenity.

Yes, I could do with a lot more rest and down time (see point 4, Year of Me), but when I look back over the last ten years in particular I can honestly say, I did A LOT with the time that was given to me. And for that I feel infinitely blessed because time is a gift given unequally and indiscriminately.

Wherever you are today, I challenge you to look at your one precious life and ask yourself if you’re doing the most to live a life filled to the brim with moments that matter, a life without regrets, a life worthy of the light you carry.

Photos: Jarnard Sutton at Nardcast Media

 

 

Reviews, Year in Review

2019 in Review

This year I read a grand total of fourteen books. Fourteen! So while I am sticking with the same year-end format I’ve used every year since I started this blog way back in 2011(!), for some categories I chose not to give an answer because I had so few options I felt like my answers would become default answers.

I had a tough year on a lot of levels and since I usually read before bed, a lot of that time got ditched for actual sleep. Which is very important! But little reading happened this year as a result.

Maybe unsurprising though. Whenever I have a major life change to deal with, I pretty much stop reading while I try to figure my life out. So I’m hoping that 2020 is the year things will get a bit back to normal! I’m setting my goal for 2020 at 24 books…a modest two books a month!

Here’s to a New Year and a new decade!!

HOW MANY BOOKS READ IN 2018?

–14 books

FICTION/NON-FICTION?

–  10  Fiction /    4 Non-Fiction

MALE/FEMALE AUTHORS?

–    6  Male /   10 Female

OLDEST BOOK READ?

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)

NEWEST BOOK READ?

Kado: Lost Treasure of the Kadohadacho by E. Russell Braziel (November 2019)

LONGEST BOOK READ?

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas (984 pages)

SHORTEST BOOK READ?

Saved as Draft by N.D. Chan (123 pages)

ANY IN TRANSLATION?

Not this year!

BEST BOOK READ IN 2019?

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

MOST BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN BOOK IN 2019?

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

MOST SURPRISING (IN A GOOD WAY!) BOOK OF 2019?

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I didn’t know at all what to expect, but I really enjoyed it and got captivated by the writing style.

MOST THRILLING, UNPUTDOWNABLE BOOK IN 2019?

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

BOOK THAT HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON ME IN 2019?

BOOK THAT HAD A SCENE IN IT THAT HAD ME REELING?

Several in Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson and Kingdom of Ash

BOOK I MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2019?

MOST MEMORABLE CHARACTER IN 2019?

Lee Westfall in Walk on Earth a Stranger and all the main characters in Kingdom of Ash.

HOW MANY RE-READS IN 2019?

None

BOOK I READ IN 2019 I’D BE MOST LIKELY TO REREAD IN 2020?

BOOK I RECOMMENDED TO PEOPLE MOST IN 2019?

The Rules of Civility to everyone who liked A Gentleman in Moscow

FAVORITE NEW AUTHORS I DISCOVERED IN 2019?

Rae Carson!

MOST BOOKS READ BY ONE AUTHOR THIS YEAR?

FAVORITE COVER OF A BOOK I READ IN 2019?

FAVORITE PASSAGE/QUOTE FROM A BOOK I READ IN 2019?

“If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us…then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place.” – Amor Towles, The Rules of Civility

“People value shiny stones and lucky charms, but they forget that the most powerful talismans of all are the stories that we tell to ourselves and to others.” – Kate Morton, The Clockmaker’s Daughter

DID I COMPLETE ANY READING CHALLENGES OR GOALS IN 2019?

Not even close!

BOOK I CAN’T BELIEVE I WAITED UNTIL 2019 TO FINALLY READ?

Kingdom of Ash because I actually started it when it came out in 2018…yes that is crazy, I KNOW. Full review for the book and why it took me so long to actually finish it coming soon!

Fiction, Historical, Reviews, Young Adult

Walk on Earth a Stranger

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

I’ve been interested in reading this series ever since I first heard the premise. But I moved it up many spaces on the TBR list after I decided it might possibly be a comp title for my book.

As a nineties kid who remembers playing Oregon Trail on the school computer, I really enjoyed this book. While not about the Oregon Trail, the plot follows Lee as she navigates a dangerous cross-country migration from her home in Georgia to California, the land of gold and plenty. The story is immersive, full of rich details, and peril around every corner. The fact that this historical fiction story has a touch of magic to it is just icing on the cake.

Lee is a great heroine: tough, smart, and willing to do whatever it takes to save herself and those she loves. It’s no surprise to me that this book was nominated for and won several awards. Lee is exactly the type of female character we still need more of in young adult literature. Not a spoiler per se, but for a section of the book, Lee travels alone with only her horse and a gun to protect her. If that’s not the type of kick-ass woman our kids and teens need to be reading, I don’t know what is!

If you’re looking to pick up a young adult book that doesn’t make use of the “chosen one” trope – this one is for you. Yes, there’s magic, but only a touch. It’s not history-inspired fantasy or alternate history. It’s just a great work of historical fiction that happens to have a bit of magic to it.

Personal, Publications, Writing

Writing Updates: “Hyde Park” Short Story Sold, Publication Expected July 2020

In my last writing update, I mentioned I wrote and finished a short story two days before the Halloween deadline for an anthology. Well that story, “Hyde Park,” is now sold!

Apparently there were over four hundred entries for the Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem anthology and just twenty-two made the final cut! I’m honored to have made it all the way to the end with my story and can’t wait to check out all the other pieces in the finished anthology.

Here’s my original pitch for the story:

Doctor Faustus meets The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde in “Hyde Park”, a story about a young writer-director who’s keeping a monstrous secret about his overnight Hollywood success.

Executive edited by Kevin J. Anderson with an editorial team provided by Western Colorado University’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing, Publishing MA students, the anthology will be published by WordFire Press. Expected publication for Monsters, Movies, & Mayhem is July 2020.