by Jasmine Bennett

Esther: Royal Beauty

Esther: Royal Beauty

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Book by Angela Hunt

Reviewed by: Jasmine Bennett

I love this book for two main reasons: The level of research that the author did to improve the historical accuracy of this book, and the way it was written.

It could be classified as a romance, but I will not call it one because of the nature of the story. The book is based off of the Bible book “Esther”. In this book by Angela Hunt, a young girl, Hadassah, grows up in the care of her cousin Mordecai and his wife Miriam in Susa, the capital of Persia. She is quiet and demure, but does not fancy the simplistic, practical Jewish way of life. The bright Persian cloths, the banquets and parties are what excites her. Hadassah and her cousins are invited, along with all of the other citizens, to a banquet at the king’s palace. Xerxes hosts the men’s banquet, and Queen Vashti hosts the women’s banquet. They feasted many days, and then on the final day of the feast, came the fateful wish from King Xerxes. He wanted Vashti to appear before him and display her beauty before his banquet guests. She denied the king, and then she was forbidden from entering the presence of the king, and she was un-crowned. A new queen would be chosen.

A few years later, a decree went out from the king’s palace, ordering beautiful virgins to be brought to the palace where they would be beautified and pampered, and perhaps the king would choose a new queen from among them.

Hadassah tried to avoid being taken, but she was kidnapped by slave traders. Hadassah, along with many other girls, was taken to the palace. For safety, she changed her name to Esther, a Persian name.

After a long while of pampered living, beautification and cosmetics, and lessons on how to behave like royalty, the young girls were waiting for the king to choose a new queen. Then the day came when King Xerxes called for a girl. The eunuch in charge sent Esther, knowing she was special. The king was captivated by Esther and sent for her again the next day. He was so impressed by her that he crowned her the queen. Esther starts to fall in love with the king. Is she naive by doing so? Perhaps. But I think it also shows a dedication and a deep spirit to Esther’s character. For a long while, Xerxes is enamored and fascinated by Esther. He spends time with only her, and neglects any other concubine. Then, she becomes pregnant, but after only a short while, has a miscarriage. Devastated, Esther tries to convey her feelings to her husband, the king. Not only does he not seem to understand, he starts spending less time with her. Then one night, Esther hears that he has called someone else into his presence. Hurt beyond belief, Esther realizes she, surrounded by servants, slaves, court nobles, whoever she wants to summon, is alone.

“My king and queen might have been supremely happy if not for the ghosts that haunted them. Esther mourned the children she could not seem to carry, and the king mourned the loss of his reputation as an invincible warrior.”

Esther: Royal Beauty, page 249

The story of Esther, ancient as it is, is incredibly moving, and is applicable, in a way, to modern times. Sometimes marriages go awry, or things come in-between a husband and wife. In the case of Esther and Xerxes, it is an arranged marriage, based solely on looks and captivation. But parallels to modern marriages are still there. Anyone can read this book, and relate to it in some way, although many times I choose to read the story as it stands, and not be emotionally involved.

Character Development: It was superb throughout this story, and I would give it a 10/10. The character of Esther changed from a naive, enamored young girl, to a mature, wise queen. While the character of Xerxes did not change much, I think that enhances the effect that the king thinks that he must be constant and consistent, and hold himself to a very high standard to be like his father. The torment of the standards of the king remains, even though he tries his best to relieve them.

Setting: 9/10 The Persian culture and setting of the city is hard, obviously because it is historical, and therefore hard to be totally accurate, but Angela Hunt does a fantastic job making you feel like you are there.

Plot Line: is definitely a 9/10. It moves along quickly, but lingers in each scene long enough so you get the most out of it. I enjoyed seeing the story unfold through the multiple characters, and how each character adds to the development of the plot.

Description: 10/10. The smooth marble of the palace walls, or the dust of the street, are both easy to see in the book. The description is spot-on, and helps the story to feel a certain way. To me, the description in the book is almost as important as the plot line. In a movie, you don’t need to hear the actor describe it. You can see the green of the trees, and haze in the distance. But in a book, many things need to be described, or you don’t see it.

Good Books and Dull Books: Study tips on how to read both

Good Books and Dull Books: Study tips on how to read both

By Jasmine Bennett

Can you force yourself to read a bad or uninteresting book? Not really. But what if you’re compelled to read it? Maybe it’s a book that a friend wrote, or one that was recommended for you by a friend. I’ve heard of a lot of people that told me their friend urged them to read a certain book… and then they didn’t like it. Naturally, they want to give their friend a better review than just “Yeah, I liked it! It was really interesting.” Which can sound just the opposite of its intention.

Dull books, boring textbooks, or long history books can be read and remembered with somewhat of the same format. I use a simple process:

  1. Start by reading the Contents, and the chapters listed. It will give you an idea of where the book is going, and may even help you to remember what to watch for. This is especially useful for textbooks or history books, because the Contents can actually summarize a timeline that you can glance over from time to time. It will help you remember the general narration of the book.
  2. When you get to each chapter, look at the title of the chapter, and remember, “This is what the chapter’s about, and by the end of this chapter, I should be able to look at the chapter name and recount what it’s about.” Skim-read the chapter quickly, then go back and read in greater detail. Knowing already what happens can actually help you read, because now you’re reading “how” the end result happened. This can work with studying for school or recreational reading, and I have used it for both. Also, don’t do something mentally consuming right after you finish reading, let the information soak into your mind, and you will remember it better.
  3. If you are really desperate, need to read the book, and can’t focus, get out a pencil and paper and make your own timeline. Just a line and some scribbles that you will be able to read again. Highlight the beginning, middle, and end. Fill the gaps in-between as best as you can, and then try to memorize it. It will help you remember the book, whether it’s for a test, or for right before you see the person who recommended the book to you.

Now, a good book might be easy to read for you, but it might also be easy to forget. When you pick up a good book, make sure there aren’t many distractions around, like the TV, your phone constantly going off, or someone trying to talk to you. It’s different if you’re babysitting or keeping an eye on food in the oven. In other words, give your book as much focused attention as you can.

Obviously, it’s hard to read large portions of the book in one setting. So after you finish reading the chapter, section, etc., don’t go running to do something else that will occupy your entire brain. When you put your book down, try to do something mundane, like taking a walk, or cleaning the house while thinking about what you just read. It will help your book “digest” in your mind, rather than pushing it out with something else mind-consuming.

It helps you enjoy the book even more when you have someone to talk to about it. Find someone who shares a passion for book reading, or is a big fan of the particular book that you are reading. I absolutely love The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, Beren and Luthien, or anything by Tolkien. When I find someone who shares the same passion and interest for those books, it makes my day! I will discuss Middle-earth till the sun goes down. It stimulates my interest in the books, and I love hearing what other Tolkien-readers have to say about them.

In summary, read a good book carefully. After all, the words are written to be read, and also remembered. If you must read a dull book, then make it worth the time you spent reading it.

Photo Credit: hannah-grace-3Pvk8mUJF3g-unsplash.com

Writing Tips: Avoiding the Clichés of Description

Writing Tips: Avoiding the Clichés of Description

The coffee shop might seem like the perfect place to work on your novel, short story, or poetry, but it does not always lend inspiration for description. Often, consciously or unconsciously, we write regurgitated description in our books that we have already read elsewhere. That causes the same sentence to reappear in many different books. Another common author-fumble is that we try to describe something we have never actually seen. That can lead to cliché descriptions. For example, if you are describing a fire, the first thing that might come to mind to write is, “the fire crackled in the hearth.” Doesn’t the fire crackle in every novel? The word “crackle” is commonly used to describe a fire. Try choosing uncommon words, and do your best to vividly describe the fire, like you are actually observing one. Is it a hot fire that has been blazing for hours? Or is it a small, sputtering fire that was just started? “The short flames hissed and popped, and steam rose from the damp log.” That sentence is far more interesting and image-evoking. Unless all you want to say is “the fire crackled in the hearth.”

If you’ve never experienced a campfire, or a fire in a fireplace, you might end up with a cliché description of it in your written works. Rather than googling another way to describe a fire, experience it for yourself! Nothing will inspire you more, or give you more ideas, than a raw, firsthand experience. Try it with something you’re trying to describe for your written works, whether it’s an event, food, weather, or an animal. Use caution, be safe, and never try anything dangerous or illegal.

Here are some ideas; I have actually tried some of them!

• In a particular instance, I wanted to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of a deep, thick pine forest. So I went to a friend’s property, which used to be a Christmas tree farm, that had thousands of pines. Pine forests are slightly different than a forest of oaks, maples, or box elder trees, and I discovered that in my experience. It is dense, with thick layers of pine needles carpeting the ground, and very, very quiet. Certain kinds of birds favor pine trees, so you may hear specific bird songs echoing among the cedars, white pines, firs, or blue spruces. Knowing those things specifically about a pine forest opens up a variety of ways to write about what it’s like in the pinewoods.

• If you’re describing a person that is enduring something physically taxing, go for a run! Feel your muscles burning and cramping, and how you’re out of breath. Are you sweating just on your forehead, or also on your arms, back, or even stomach?

•Animals are often easy to describe: brown, furry, etc., but what is often not written about in books is the unpredictableness of an animal’s movements. Deer rarely walk a full 100 yards without stopping. They take a few steps, glance around, then trot for another 20 feet, then stop. Deer are very wary of their surroundings. Find a place to observe wild deer in their natural habitat, and write down what you see. Write anything, whether it’s just individual words, or a whole sentence. Keep in mind, animals are elusive and hard to find sometimes, so don’t get discouraged on the first try!

• Something I’ve seen in many books are descriptions of marketplaces or the downtown hubbub of a city. It’s hard not to become cliché in the process of writing about it, so try different angles, perspectives, or subjects, just like a photographer would. A photographer won’t just always stand in the doorway of a store and take a photo of the street. Instead, they might get down on the sidewalk and snap a picture of a pigeon eating pretzel crumbs, with crowds of people milling about in the background.

• Weather is famous for falling into a cliché pose. Not all raindrops are going to “fall” from the sky. Rain might come hurtling down in sheets, or it might be a light mist. Are they cold, sharp, stinging pellets of icy rain? Or is it a warm rain? There are many, many ways to say, “it rained.” And the sun does not always come out after it rains. Go outside for a walk the next time it rains, and don’t be afraid to get wet! Turn your face up so you know what it feels like. Or, if riding a winter-themed work, go out during a snowstorm! Notice if the snowflakes make noise when they fall on the ground.

A challenge for describing weather! When putting together your sentences in your work, don’t name what you are describing. Don’t write the word, “rain”. In other words, describe it, but don’t say it. Write about how the clouds are growing dark, then how droplets of water fall from the sky and hit the pavement, and then comes the downpour. Your reader will know what you are describing, without you ever saying the word, “rain”.

• If you’re describing an event, like a horse race, focus on the feeling. Are the crowds excited, murmuring amongst themselves? Maybe it’s a lazy, hot day, and the crowds are quieter, sitting in the shade and fanning themselves. What does the main character feel at the race? Is he nervous, because he just bet a large sum on a horse? Or is he just relaxing because his uncle is working at the ticket booth?

Whatever you choose to do, always remember that you don’t have to go far to experience something for your project. If you are writing about a northern atmosphere, like Alaska, you may not have the resources to travel there. So get as close as you can, without the travel. Look up photos, watch videos of the tundra, or documentaries. It’s not ideal, but it’s what you have to do sometimes. You want the reader to “feel” the cold, and “hear” the wind. It will improve your book, poetry, or whatever kind of writing you want to do!

By Jasmine Bennett

Photo Credit: Camille Guillen @camilles_lens (Instagram)


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