Bookstagram

Hey guys!

I have no regularly scheduled Thursday post about my writing musings, because I’m working on something for next week about allllll the writing rules I break. But I didn’t want to leave you hanging, so I’m going to encourage you to follow me on Instagram @writingwaimee

Rainbow Books IG
Today we’re going to talk about my Bookstagram because the post I was going to post isn’t finished because adulting is hard and time management is hard and books are pretty.

On Tuesdays, I do abbreviated reviews of what I post here on the blog with a Bookstagram photo of whatever book I’ve reviewing (obviously). Those are posted under the hashtag #FiveStarOnlyReviews.

Born a Crime IG
Remember the Five Star Review I did last week for Born a Crime about how I made a fool of myself at the gym? Yep, there’s a #Bookstagram for that, too!

On Saturdays, I do #ShowYouSaturday where I show you my current read and encourage you to play along by taking a photo of YOUR current read and posting it under the hashtag for all to admire ūüėČ

The Hazel Wood IG
Last Saturday I was reading (and not super feeling) The Hazel Wood. (It got better, though!) Anyway, everyone here knows my policy about not bashing books, but sometimes I’ll talk on IG about a current read I’m meh about. Not to bash, just to be like, “Hey, we all have different tastes, and that’s cool because humanity is a neat thing right?”

Anyway, come join in on the fun, get to see my more positive (and more abbreviated side), and of course, gush with me about books.

The Belles Maps IG
Like these. I will gush about these a lot. If you haven’t read them you should. Really. Right now. Get it them on your TBR.

Oh, and you should also join me because #bookspirals or #booktowers or #bookstacks I’m not really sure what the hashtag is to be honest (I’m still learning and trying to get better), but I made my first one, and I need you all to be amazed.

Book Spiral IG
See! I made one! A book spiral thing. There are others on #bookstagram that are way more impressive if you follow the hashtag, but it took me awhile to even figure out the shape, so here we are. Also, Ash Princess was very good.

That’s all for now! Next week I hope to have the rule-breaking post ready for you. In the meantime, pop over to Instagram (if it’s working again, please say it is) and say hi!

‚̧ Always,

Aimee

P.s. I just posted a photo of my dog who is adorable, with some books, so just saying.

Book Review: Born a Crime

Content/Trigger Warnings: Domestic abuse, attempted murder, gun violence, racism.


Born a CrimeOfficial Blurb:¬†Trevor Noah, one of the comedy world’s fastest-rising stars and host of¬†The Daily Show, tells his wild coming-of-age story during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. In this Audible Studios production, Noah provides something deeper than traditional memoirists: powerfully funny observations about how farcical political and social systems play out in our lives.

“Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.'”¬†(Trevor Noah)

Attuned to the power of language at a young age – as a means of acceptance and influence in a country divided, then subdivided, into groups at odds with one another – Noah’s raw, personal journey becomes something extraordinary in audio: a true testament to the power of storytelling. With brutal honesty and piercing wit, he forgoes an ordinary reading and, instead, delivers something more intimate, sharing his story with the openness and candor of a close friend. His chameleon-like ability to mimic accents and dialects, to shift effortlessly between languages including English, Xhosa, and Zulu, and to embody characters throughout his childhood – his mother, his gran, his schoolmates, first crushes and infatuations – brings each memory to life in vivid detail. Hearing him directly, you’re reminded of the gift inherent in telling one’s story and having it heard; of connecting with another, and seeing them as a human being.

The stories Noah tells are by turns hilarious, bizarre, tender, dark, and poignant – subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty, making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a color-obsessed world, thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn’t commit, thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters, and more.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in my life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. ~ Trevor Noah

In full disclosure, I am not a person who gets celebrity crushes, but Trevor Noah is an exception to that rule. I was skeptical (like most people) about the new host of The Daily Show after Jon Stewart left, but the minute I saw Trevor Noah, I was hooked. Which is why it’s almost surprising that it took me so long to read his book. But then you see my TBR pile and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I see why she’s just now getting to this one.”

Anyway, BORN A CRIME, Noah’s memoir is, quite obviously, hilarious. If you like Trevor Noah’s comedy, you’ll like his book. Fun anecdote to emphasize how funny this book was: I listened to it, and like every other audiobook, I listened to it at the gym. When Chapter Three of¬†Born a Crime started playing, I was on the elliptical. I was doing my thing, working up a sweat, listening to the beautiful lilt of the South African accent play over my ears. Then I got into it,¬†really into it. Chapter Three of this book is so funny I could feel the laughter building up in the back of my throat. But I couldn’t let it out because on this particular afternoon, the small gym at my work was packed. I mean¬†packed. Every single piece of equipment was being used, and two people were waiting for others to finish so they could hop on. I’m a relatively new gym-goer, but me busting up laughing while working out didn’t seem like proper gym etiquette.

However, the laugh did not care. It built until my throat¬†burned. I tried to hold it in. I tried not to breathe, but, while breathing is critical at all times in your life, it’s especially so when exercising. I sucked in a breath because I had to, to live and all, and this high-pitched squeak of a laugh erupted from my burning throat. I sounded like a lizard someone had stepped on. I put my hand over my mouth and tried to contain it but another one came, and another, and another. People looked over at me. Honestly, I think they probably thought my workout was killing me, or that I was going to throw up on the elliptical they were waiting for. I tried to open my mouth to tell them it was just that this audiobook I was listening to was hysterical, but opening my mouth to say that made real, full laughs come shooting forth like the vomit I’m sure all these people expected.

I laughed so hard I had to stop my workout, wipe down the elliptical, and bust out of there, cackling the entire way. Because I mean, let’s be real, if something is making you laugh that hard, especially in today’s world, you choose the book over the workout.

Yet, despite it’s comedy,¬†Born a Crime is also incredibly dark. There are things I laughed at that I had to sit back and think, “Wait, that should¬†not be funny.” Then there were things I did not laugh at at all.

To be completely honest, before I read this book, I didn’t know much about Apartheid other than it was terrible, and Nelson Mandela ended it.¬†Born a Crime gave me a peek into how terrible it was, both before and after.¬†It also left me wanting to learn more, which is always a great thing to come away with.

All in all, this book had a little bit of something for everyone. It was funny, it was serious, it was informative, it had some good bits of life advice, and if you listen to it, you get the added bonus of a great narrator with a beautiful accent.

Buy Links:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Anyone else have an embarrassing gym moment they’d like to share while I’m over here doing that? Make me feel less alone, will you?

‚̧ Aimee

On Rejection

For those who don’t know, I have been querying¬†The King’s Blade since it was rejected (twice) from Pitch Wars. The querying has been off and on while I struggle with working more hours than my mental health can handle, reviving this blog and my Instagram, working on my new WIP, keeping up with an ever-growing TBR, and trying to function as a human. But over the course of the months, fading into years, that I’ve been querying this manuscript, I’ve racked up 20 rejections. All of them have been form rejections. I have had no requests for additional pages.

The agents who have rejected me have been from large and small agencies. They’ve been agents I would label “dream agents,” and agents I thought would love my book based on their wish lists. They’ve been agents I’ve admired from afar based solely on who they are and how they present themselves, and others who have clients I aspire to be. In short, it feels like the whole of publishing has rejected me. Without a single request for more pages.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the agents who have rejected me my book. I know it’s dangerous to write about rejection when you’re querying, but I have always tried to be honest here and honestly, writing is my only outlet right now. I don’t feel like I’m part of the writing community. I don’t know how to be relevant and as such, I don’t feel like I have anyone to turn to. I just have this blog, and my journal, and my silent screams lobbed against the bathroom wall.

The twentieth rejection came on my 31st birthday, which just so happened to be last Friday. Even if I wanted to tell you who it was from (which I don’t), I couldn’t. At some point, form rejections seem to feel like little blurs against your heart. They blend into each other, a watercolor of despair. I used to have a policy that to stave off the pain of rejection, as soon as I got one, I’d stop whatever I was doing and hop to sending another query letter to someone else on my list.

At form rejection twenty, I didn’t hop to do anything. In fact, I didn’t move. I couldn’t. I lost all sense of time and feeling.

Happy Birthday to me.

It took a few days for the self-degradation to kick in. I was on my way to work Monday morning when it started to creep. Thirty-one-years old, it said, with nothing to show for it. Nothing that society says you should have: no husband, no house, no baby. And nothing that you want: no agent, no book deal, no way into the space you long to occupy. Just two, failed, self-published books in a series you can’t even finish and are likely going to pull, that you went into debt for and which brought you nothing. You have no social media following, you are not welcome in the writing community, no one talks to you on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. You’re not relevant and no one is interested in you or what you’re doing. You’re screaming into an abyss saying, “See me!” It’s pathetic. No one sees you. You’re nothing and no one and that’s what you’ll always be. Nothing and no one. As mediocre now as you always were.

And this is all your fault, because instead of taking what little talent you possessed and running after your dreams, you disappeared into the bottom of a rum bottle. While your peers from UNC pursued PhD’s in English literature and composition and MFA’s at Iowa and found themselves with publishing deals from the Big 5, you perused the liquor aisle, the only question on your mind being, “What will get me the drunkest, the fastest?” What will bring me to oblivion?

Your fault. Your fault. Your fault.

So it’s no surprise that no one cares when you curl into a ball in the women’s bathroom and sob against the drywall. It’s no surprise when tears drip onto the federal brief you’re working on, splashing your green edits into globs across the page as tiny little whimpers slip from your throat. Somewhere on the outside, you realize you sound like a wounded animal, and you wonder if this is the sound a dream makes when it dies.

No one cares because even though there’s no way they could know, you’re sure they do know this is your fault. That those twenty form rejections were a thing you earned. A thing you deserved. Because you deserve nothing and no one. That is your brand. Nothing and no one.

This is what rejection feels like for me. It is lonely. It is primal. It is ugly. It does not feel like character building, or something I should be grateful for. It does not feel like a story I want to tell, yet here I am, telling it, because it is the only story I currently¬†have to tell. Somewhere, the insidious whispers that could belong to my various mental illnesses, or my upbringing, or the despair that’s curled around rejection, tell me to shut up. They tell me to¬†give up. They tell me that because I am nothing and no one, no one wants to hear me, let alone read me. They tell me that my words make people uncomfortable. They tell me my concept is bad, my pages are bad, my query is bad. It’s time to stop this madness, they say. It’s time to shut up and close up. Time to shelve this dream.

But I can’t shut up. I am a storyteller. I always have been. I probably always will be. And maybe it is my fault that I lost so much time, but building a life on blame is no way to build a life. And quitting… well, that would be my fault, too.

So I guess I won’t. At least not today.

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Book Review: My Oxford Year

Trigger/Content Warnings: Death, grief, terminal illness.


My Oxford YearOfficial Blurb:¬†Set amidst the breathtaking beauty of Oxford, this sparkling debut novel tells the unforgettable story about a determined young woman eager to make her mark in the world and the handsome man who introduces her to an incredible love that will irrevocably alter her future‚ÄĒperfect for fans of JoJo Moyes and Nicholas Sparks.

American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day.

When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret.

Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“He always said that waiting for me to learn how to talk was like waiting for his long-lost friend to arrive.” ~ Julia Whelan

I have a rule about my star system I haven’t had the opportunity to explain, because in the time I’ve been doing my five-star only reviews it hasn’t happened. The rule goes like this: if a book makes me cry (for the right reason), it is automatically five starred. MY OXFORD YEAR, a debut novel by Julia Whelan accomplished that. With the quote above, actually.

To be honest, I was surprised when I found myself entering this book on this blog. I expected it to be good, because (disclaimer) I know Julia, and I’d heard about the book before it was published, but I didn’t know it was going to make me write my first automatic five-star review. I mean… it’s contemporary new adult, which I read, well, none of, honestly. And it deals with grief which is a subject that usually turns me off. You see, I automatically five-star review a book that makes me cry not because I don’t cry (I do, ask anyone) but because¬†books don’t usually make me cry. Neither do movies or TV shows. I compartmentalize well. I’m very good at separating reality from fiction. So if fiction manages to make me cry, it’s doing something very right.

My Oxford Year did grief right. It was quiet; it didn’t slam you in the face; it wasn’t big and swooping and too dramatic to be real. It was subtle, understated, but deeply moving. I found myself saying, “Yes, that’s¬†exactly what that feels like, but I never had words quite like these.” It also made me think. While listening to the book (because Julia as I’ve mentioned, is a fantastic narrator and she of course narrated her own book), I found myself pondering over choice and what the difference might be between the path we always thought we were meant for and the path that finds us.

All in all, I found¬†My Oxford Year to be a surprising delight. It was a soft read, not overbearing. The kind of book (or audiobook, you should listen to the audiobook), you want to curl up on the couch with and get lost in. It’s the kind of book that keeps even the best skeptics from waking from the dream.

Buy Links:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Question: What is the last book that surprised you?

‚̧ Aimee

Why I No Longer Write About Bosnia

Author’s Note: This post should really have a subtitle. Its full title should be “Why I No Longer Write About Bosnia: A Lesson on Staying in Your Own Lane.”

Based on recent events in the YA community, I have replaced the regularly scheduled Thursday blog (which is about rejection), with this one. It only seems appropriate that I push back my own pain to highlight the pain I once caused.

Content/Trigger Warning: Minor description and discussion of ethnic cleansing/genocide. Cultural appropriation.


In the summer of 2008, I was 19 years old. It was July 11th, and I was at the Jersey shore drinking wine and hanging out with a couple of my friends when I overheard a strikingly handsome man speaking a language that made my heart flutter. At first, I mistook it for Russian, but I quickly realized it was not nearly as harsh. It flowed. It was soft and didn’t have the anger behind it I often associate with Russian.

In the summer of 2008, I was also a braver creature than I am now. I approached the man and asked him what language he was speaking. He said it was Bosnian. I smiled. I knew about Bosnia. A little, anyway. When I was 10, my father bought me my very first CD, an album titled “Dead Winter Dead” by a band called Savatage. The album was a series of songs that when listened to in order told a story. The story took place during the siege of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. It was a love story about two sides uniting over a man playing cello on Christmas Eve in the center of a shelled-out city. It was Romeo and Juliet without the tragic ending.

As I would come to learn, what happened in Bosnia was in no way romantic and was in every way tragic. But at that moment, all I wanted was to impress this handsome stranger with my knowledge. “Are you from Sarajevo?”

He said something in Bosnian to his group of friends, who chuckled, then turned back to me and said, “No. I’m from Srebrenica.”

Despite my ignorance, the man befriended me. We started dating. We fell in love. He was Muslim (in culture more than practice), making him a Bosniak (which can be different from Bosnian, a fact I would soon learn). He was the second youngest of five brothers, all of whom had managed to survive the genocide at Srebrenica. They were there on July 11, 1995 when the Serbs drove their tanks into the town, and the UN stepped aside. It was why I’d met him on July 11th, 13 years later. He was trying to escape his memories.

I won’t tell more of their story than this background for the reasons I’m about to explain. What I will tell you is the story of my ignorance, and how that ignorance led to a selfishness that destroyed what might have been my greatest love. Because I did not only love this man, I loved his culture. I loved his country, though I’d never been there. I loved his brothers and his sisters-in-law and their young children. I loved his language, which I picked up in college and which he helped teach me (because my professor made me sound Russian, he said). I loved pita and cevapi smothered with kajmak. I loved the techno music that at first I could not understand then began to realize was all about violence and love and the intermingling of the two. I loved his history. I loved how much the Bosniaks I got to know felt like they¬†belonged to a place, that even though they now lived in the United States, they had these roots that spanned back generations in Bosnia. They would always belong to Bosnia. I myself had never belonged anywhere. I had no roots. So theirs were painfully beautiful to me.

My boyfriend hung the Bosnian flag on his bedroom wall, and draped next to it was a scarf, blue and yellow like the flag. There were words on it that read “Krv svoju za bosnu moju.” Roughly translated, “My blood for my Bosnia.” He believed that. All the Bosniaks I knew did. I, meanwhile, had never felt that strongly about¬†anything.

That would be the title of my book, I thought every time I saw the scarf. My Blood for My Bosnia. I don’t remember who first came up with the book idea–me or him. What I do remember is how he would beg me to tell his story. How he would sling his arms around my shoulders and proudly show me off to his friends and family, declaring that I was the girl who would tell their story. I was the one who would finally make Americans listen.

When the summer ended, and I went back to college, we would spend hours on the phone every night, him telling me stories about his past. I would write down everything he said, then pry for every extra detail I felt I might need. I wanted to know what the hills looked like, what the grass smelled like, how much it snowed. I wanted to know how the Eurocrem tasted when he stole it from his mother’s cupboards before the war began. I wanted to know how many sheep they had and how slaughtering a lamb worked. In the beginning, he wanted to tell me. He wanted me to tell his story, because no one in America knew about Bosnia. No one had ever told their story. Eight thousand men and boys were slaughtered in Srebrenica, and most Americans had no idea. As I was in school for creative writing and deeply in love with not only him but everything about him, I seemed the obvious choice. One of his sisters-in-law even joked I was “more Bosnian” than most of the Bosnian girls she knew.

I was proud of that. And I was honored that he wanted to give me this precious gift. But I understood it to be a weighty responsibility, too. I wanted to make sure I did it right. So in addition to our nightly discussions about¬†his life, I spent hours and hours and hours at the library reading everything I could about Bosnia, and Yugoslavia before it. I pulled videos from archive files I didn’t even know our library had until then. I watched what happened in Srebrenica and elsewhere. I saw the Serbs line the men up in graves the victims had dug¬† for themselves, then pull the triggers of SKS’, then smile for the camera.

The nightmares got worse. I have always had nightmares, but they shifted. They started to be about a conflict I’d never lived through. They revolved around fears that weren’t exactly mine. In my short story classes, every story I wrote was about Bosnia. My writing professor looked at the non-fiction manuscript I was working on and told me it lacked any sense of¬†me.

I started to digest my boyfriend’s pain in a way even¬†he did not. I didn’t realize what was happening at the time, but I was¬†stealing his pain from him. I would get drunk and cry and demand to know why the Serbs had done that to him and his people. Why anyone would hurt anyone that way. I railed about his pain and expected him to console me. I¬†thought what I felt was good. I thought it meant I loved him so much it hurt me to know he’d been hurt. And in some ways, it was that. Mostly though, it was theft of the most terrible kind. It was the most selfish thing I’ve ever done.

He stopped wanting to tell me stories about the war. I begged him. We started to fight, something we’d never done before. Constantly, about everything. I think he picked fights with me to avoid telling me the stories I’d sickly come to depend on. To thirst for. I was hungry for this story that did not belong to me. I wanted to buy my way in to a community I could never truly belong to, and he sensed it if not outright knew it. But I didn’t know it. I was too deep in my own selfishness.

I was a sieve for pain; I always had been. Years later, one of my therapists would call this relationship a “trauma bond,” not in the sense that our relationship with one another was abusive but that our pasts were abusive. Trauma was a thing I knew more intimately than anything else. It was a thing my boyfriend and everyone around him knew. Instead of sharing similar hobbies or core values, we shared trauma. It was the source of my sense of belonging. I clung to it because it was familiar. I had not yet learned to want to be free of it. He had.

The thing is, the reason for telling the story often matters as much as the actual telling of the story. Our reasons separated. His was authentic and genuine. Mine was toxic.

Eventually, his best friend, a survivor of one of the many internment camps set up in Bosnia, called me to tell me my boyfriend was cheating on me. Now that I look back, I don’t even know that he was. Maybe. But maybe he just wanted an easy way out.

We broke up.

I still didn’t stop writing about Bosnia, though. By then, I’d made other friends who were Bosniaks, though I never fed on their pain the way I had my boyfriend’s. But by having those friends, I still felt like part of the community. I still felt like it was okay to write about Bosnia even though it was a community I did not belong to, and never would because, somewhat obviously, I am not Bosnian. Like I said, I’d never¬†had a community. Dating that man, and having those friends, was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I belonged somewhere.

Short stories became my new outlet. My new sick fix. I thought maybe I would even publish a whole compilation of them, with the same title.¬†My Blood for My Bosnia. It would be a best seller. When it was, we’d run into each other at a book signing. I would fix things. He would love me again. I would belong somewhere. It was a ridiculous fever dream I held for far, far too long.

Then, in 2017, not longer after I published my first novel (thankfully, not about Bosnia), I attended a writers retreat focused on writing more sensitively and staying in one’s own lane. MadCap changed my perspective on¬†a lot. It also made me reflect on the damage I’d done to this relationship that, though I’d cherished, I’d let fester and rot.

I stopped writing about Bosnia after that. Because the thing is, it doesn’t matter how much history I know, or that I’ve listened to or read all the transcripts of the Bosnian War Tribunals, or that I’ve loved and continue to love Bosniaks, or that I adore the food, or that I speak the language (badly, these days). None of that matters, because I am not Bosnian. I will never know what it’s truly like. I should not be the one to make Americans listen. A Bosnian should do that.¬†That genocide is not my pain. It never will¬†be. And for me to capitalize off it?

It’s wrong. Plain and simple.

But Bosnian voices? You had me at “ljubav.”

‚̧ Always, Aimee

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Book Review: King of Scars

Author’s Note: For those who are new here, and because I’ve never said it explicitly before, all my five-star-only reviews are non-spoiler reviews. I list the official blurb, then I talk about maybe the prose, maybe a brief overview of the content, but mostly how the book made me feel, and who I’d recommend it for. That said, I know this book is brand spanking new (less new by the time this auto posts but still), and I don’t want to spoil anything (even just feelings), so please feel free to pass over this one. It will not hurt my feelings at all. Seriously. I avoided Twitter and Instagram for a week while I finished reading this. I get it.

King of ScarsOfficial Blurb:¬†Face your demons…or feed them.

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country‚Äôs bloody civil war‚Äēand he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka‚Äôs coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren‚Äôt meant to stay buried‚Äēand some wounds aren‚Äôt meant to heal.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“If men were ashamed when they should be, they’d have no time for anything else.” ~ Leigh Bardugo

KING OF SCARS was my most anticipated read of 2019, and it did not disappoint. For those who haven’t yet been introduced to the Grishaverse, get acquainted (start with the¬†Shadow and Bone¬†trilogy, then move on to the Six of Crows duology), then find your way back here. Also, know that I’m jealous you get to read these fabulous books with fresh eyes.

For those who don’t know, Leigh Bardugo is one of my favorite authors of all time. I literally took the day off work to start in on King of Scars.¬†When it arrived, I ran to the door, grabbed the package from off the floor (while the astounded Amazon deliveryman stared at me with wide, blinking eyes) and started to scream. I mean, little kid on Christmas scream. Between these giggles and high pitched shrieks, I thanked the man, dashed inside, and continued to dance around my living room and kitchen, clutching the package and hopping up and down like a little bird trying to take flight. I was that excited.

I was this excited because Leigh Bardugo, without fail, writes stories I want to read, stories I feel were made just for me. Her characters are rich and her world building beautiful. She explores things I’m interested in: different cultures and customs; different languages; different relationships; different loves. But most of all, she is honest. Her writing is honest, and so are her realities. Even in a fantasy realm, she doesn’t cop-out. She doesn’t engage in dishonest tropes and parlor tricks simply to appease the masses. She keeps it real. Oh, and she’s¬†funny. Did I mention how funny her writing can be?

King of Scars was no different. Within the first chapter, I was transported. Whisked away, back to Ravka, back to Nikolai, back to the home of the Grisha. I loved¬†King of Scars because it was familiar in a way that Leigh’s writing has become familiar to me. It’s not only the characters, but it’s the truth she speaks. It’s a familiarity that changes,¬† too evolving naturally, because Leigh is one of those writers who seems to¬†always get better. With every story she spins, I see her evolution as a writer, and to me, that is more enchanting even than the Grishaverse. Leigh is the kind of author I aspire to be. And¬†King of Scars is the kind of book I want to write. Let’s just hope that when I do, I can get a cover half as eye catching!

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble (where you can get an exclusive edition)

How did everyone feel about Leigh’s new book? And tell me, what is your most anticipated read of the year?

‚̧ Aimee

Book Review: Heavy

Author’s Note: If you are into audio books, I highly recommend you listen to this one.¬†

Trigger Warnings: Child abuse, sexual assault, sexual violence, rape, gang rape, drug abuse, emotional abuse, racism, eating disorders. This book is called Heavy for many reasons, its contents are only a few.

Official Blurb: 

havyKiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.

In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a

 young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.

A personal narrative that illuminates national failures,¬†Heavy¬†is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood‚ÄĒand continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“For the first time in my life, I realized telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words. Revisiting and rearranging words didn’t only require vocabulary; it required will, and maybe courage. Revised word patterns were revised thought patterns. Revised thought patterns shaped memory. I knew, looking at all those words, that memories were there, I just had to rearrange, add, subtract, sit, and sift until I found a way to free the memory.”

There is nothing I can say about HEAVY: AN AMERICAN MEMOIR before I first say it was one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature I have ever had the privilege of reading. I was also fortunate in that the co-worker who recommended this book to me, urged me to listen to it. It is narrated by the author, and it flows like a spoken word poem: in you, and through you, and out of you. It stays with you, both in content and in language, haunting and fresh.

I will also say that as a white girl, I won’t comment much on the content, except to say that white people should read or listen to this book. For us, this book is here to listen to, and think about, and stay silent, and do better. These words do not exist for us to analyze or dissect. They are not for us, for once. But they are lovely, and I am glad to have been able to hear them.

Kiese Laymon is a raw writer of a kind I can only hope we see more of. He writes with a courage that steals your breath. At times, his anecdotes are laugh out loud funny, and at other times, his stories left me with tears flowing down my cheeks. Laymon reached me in a way that I haven’t been reached in a good long while, and I am a better, rounder, fuller person for it.

Buy Links:

Amazon (audiobook)

iTunes (audiobook)

Barnes & Noble (hardback)

I feel as though I’ll be thinking about this one for a long while yet. I hope I’ve convinced some of you to listen to it!

‚̧ Aimee

Dispensing with the “Classics”

Author’s Note: I really don’t think this needs to be said, but I’m going to say it because of some memes I’ve seen going around about¬†To Kill a Mockingbird being pulled from a school’s curriculum. The following post is¬†not in any way advocating for the¬†banning of books. Please do not call me a Nazi. There is a huge difference between changing required reading in school and banning books. The former is a change in curriculum, the later is censorship.¬†


This post has been churning around in my head for awhile now. For those who haven’t read the “About” section on this site, I was an English major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As such, I’ve read¬†a lot of books considered “classics” (or, in academia, those books which make up the Western canon). I read them because it was required of an English major, not because I liked them. I read them because I wanted to be an author, and it is widely known that to write, you must read. I read them because I was told they would make me a better writer.

And maybe in some ways, they did. But I’m no longer convinced it is¬†these¬†specific books that make one a better writer. In fact, I think in some ways, they can be harmful. Because the authors at issue are almost universally white, cisgender, straight men. Not surprisingly, that makes a lot of their work racist, homophobic, and patriarchal. They do not reflect the reality of the world around us, not anymore (and arguably not when their books were written, either), nor do they reflect the reality of any world I want to live in. To quote one of these men, Albert Camus, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” But how can the Western canon represent the current truth? How can it help us learn to write our own truths when it doesn’t even accurately convey its own?

Yet, the thing that haunts me most is the thought of what we could be missing out on by encouraging our students to mimic a Western canon that is no longer relevant. Think of all we could have if we didn’t force this trite old sameness down the throats of every high school student in America. We could have more readers, more writers. We could inspire more voices to tell more stories, more truths. We could lift up creativity, in all fields, across all specialties and scopes. I mean, what if black students didn’t have to read about the “heroism” of Atticus Finch? What if they were never subjected to a lecture on why it’s “okay” that Twain used the n-word 219 times in Huck Finn? What if indigenous students didn’t have to read the words “the only good Indian was a dead Indian” written by some white woman who didn’t know the first thing about their culture(s)? What if female students didn’t have to read about an all-male cast descending into chaos and savagery (and thereby be forced to contemplate what their role is in placating this behavior) in¬†Lord of the Flies? What if our students didn’t have to follow around a main character who rapes two little girls in A Clockwork Orange? What if none of these children were ever forced to sympathize with their oppressors? Would that¬†really make them worse writers?

Or would it make them better?

Would it make the writing less or would it simply make it different? If we didn’t have these “influences” would we be more or less free? I mean, isn’t literature about freedom? Expressing oneself in the fullest and truest way possible? And how can you be free to write from your own experience and your own culture if none of your “influences” saw you as human?

What kind of impact would it have if instead of¬†To Kill a Mockingbird, we passed out copies of¬†The Hate U Give? Hell, what kind of impact would it have if we just went ahead and accepted the fact that a lot of the Western canon is simply boring? I mean, how many people out there do you think hate reading because someone handed them¬†Moby Dick and they read three pages about how white some whale was and decided books were not for them? Seriously though, even the whale is white?¬†What if we gave them¬†Six of Crows instead? Why can’t books be both instructive¬†and interesting?

The thing is: they can. And they are. There are a lot of books out there that are both; books that academics (and even teachers) snub their noses at because they’re classified as “young adult” or “fantasy” or “genre fiction.” I mean, I have actually seen educators, good educators I know, say things like, “THUG was really great considering it’s young adult.”

Like… what? Seriously, though. What?

Anyway, I think it’s far past time we stop and ask ourselves: Why are these labels seen to be bad things? Is it who writes these stories that make them less? Because if it’s that, it should really¬†be evaluated.¬†Or is it that reading these stories is fresh and interesting and fun? And if it’s that, whoever said that reading had to be boring or painful to be worthwhile? I mean honestly, what kind of message are we sending with that notion?

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Anyone else think it’s time that we cancel the classics? And if not, why do you think they should stay? Anyone want a good mix of both? Let me know (respectfully, please) your thoughts in the comments.

‚̧ Always, Aimee

 

Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire

Trigger/Content Warnings: Sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, physical abuse, slavery, and homophobia (which is addressed on page)*.

*Please note that this is an own voices book, I am not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and I will make no determinations as to what the homophobia makes someone of that community feel except to say you should look to own voices reviewers (most of whom seem to love the representation).

girls of paper and fireOfficial Blurb: 

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“I know what it means to dream about the past. To dream about things you have loved, and lost.” ~ Natasha Ngan

From only a few sentences in, I knew I was going to love GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE. I was so sure this would be one of my five-star reviews that I basically started crafting this post right around Chapter Three. Natasha Ngan’s stunning, Asian-inspired fantasy grabbed me with both its content and its characters. Ngan’s world building is unique and rich,¬† her characters multi-faceted and complex. There wasn’t a single person (or demon) I met that I didn’t want to know more about, who I didn’t want to sit and imagine.

But more than anything, I loved the fact that this was a book about girls saving girls, in every way imaginable. There was no knight in shining armor, because there didn’t have to be. There was plenty of courage and magic and badassery in Paper House. There were strong female friendships and romances, but there were also complicated rivalries; something I love seeing on the page. Ngan’s characters are complex, and that complexity makes them messy. Anyone who knows me knows I love a little mess in my literature. Because messy is emotional, and emotions will have me coming back for more, which is a good thing, since this is only book one!

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Who else read this one? And who else feels like it didn’t get the hype it deserves??

‚̧ Always, Aimee

Diversity Check In

One of my goals for this year was to read 24 books, but more importantly, to read diversely.

*Note: When I mean diversely throughout this post, I mean written by diverse authors (own voices and otherwise).*

Good news! I am upping that goal to 40 books for the year based on my current rate of reads. But my most important endeavor is still to read diversely.

Brief anecdote about being thirty. I was a teenager in the 2000s. Young adult literature existed then (I’ve heard other writers my age try to say it didn’t), but it wasn’t like it is now. It was sparser, for one, and mostly contemporary. There wasn’t a lot of fantasy to be had. There was almost no fantasy with female main characters save Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey (one of these days I’m going to try one of those book spirals with all the Mercedes Lackey books I own, and you’ll see how desperate I was for this kind of writing), and those books are… well, they’re quite white. I didn’t have Twitter. Goodreads didn’t even come out until I was a freshman in college. Social Media wasn’t really a thing yet. I mean, Facebook wasn’t available to anyone except for college students and MySpace was more about glitter backgrounds and bands. I found books I might like the “good old fashioned way” — by asking a bookseller or librarian, or by sitting on the floor of Borders (we still had those) and reading a ton of blurbs. When I found something I liked, I stuck with that author (see: my someday Mercedes Lackey spiral).

Reading diversely wasn’t something anyone talked about like people do now. That doesn’t excuse me not doing it. It was possible. It wasn’t like authors of color didn’t exist. I could have found them, but I didn’t.

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I’m trying to rectify that now. And it’s easier these days, thanks to social media in part, but mostly thanks to authors of color leading the push for their rightfully deserved and earned spots at the table. It’s thanks to initiatives like We Need Diverse Books. And it’s thanks to a new generation of readers who are hungry for newer and better stories than the ones that came before.

That doesn’t mean I can be lazy about reading diversely, though. Publishing is still light years behind when it comes to reflecting America (and note that I am specifically talking about traditional publishing in America here; self-publishing is a whole different ballpark, and I don’t have enough knowledge to talk about the publishing situation in other countries). This is why I’ve decided that every so often, here on the blog, I’m going to do a quick diversity check in with regard to my reading. I want to hold myself publicly accountable for being a better reader. Because being a better reader means being a better writer. And reading diversely means being a better a human, in all honesty.

So without further ado, here’s my very first diversity check-in.

Books Read in 2019: 8

Books by women authors: 6

Books by POC authors: 3 (Breakdown: 2 Black Authors and 1 Asian Author)

Books by LGBTQIA authors: 3 (Note: Not all of these numbers may be accurate as some of these authors may choose to keep their personal lives out of the public sphere which I am 100% okay with)

Books by authors with disabilities: 1

So not bad! But as soon as I wrote this the first thing I realized: I haven’t read a single book this year by an author who identifies as non-Christian. Granted, some of these were fantasies exploring religions that are not Christian or Christian coded so some of these authors may identify as non-Christian, I don’t know, but I definitely cannot put my finger on it for certain.¬†As always, room to improve. Anyone have any recommendations for books by non-Christian authors? YA fantasy is always a plus! Or a great memoir?

‚̧ Always,

Aimee