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Book Review: Graceling

Trigger/Content Warnings: Child abuse, child molestation, incest.


3236307Official Blurb: Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable-yet-strong Katsa, who is smart and beautiful and lives in the Seven Kingdoms where selected people are born with a Grace, a special talent that can be anything at all. Katsa’s Grace is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his brutal enforcer. Until the day she meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, and Katsa’s life begins to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Awards: Winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature, winner of the SIBA Book Award/YA, Indies Choice Book Award Honor Book, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2008 Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, 2008 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Amazon.com’s Best Books of 2008, 2008 Booklist Editors’ Choice, Booklist’s 2008 Top Ten First Novels for Youth, 2009 Amelia Bloomer List, BCCB 2009 Blue Ribbon List

My Take: 5/5 Stars

When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else? ~ Kristin Cashore

GRACELING, Kristin Cashore’s 2008 debut novel has been on my to be read list for about three years. Maybe more. Allowing it to linger there for so long turned out to be a mistake. I berated myself almost the entire read for taking so long to actually read this book. I couldn’t put it down.

This book did young adult fantasy right. The main character was strong and well-rounded, someone you could connect with and root for right away. The story was well-crafted and high-paced, a real page turner. The romance (because if you know me, I like my fantasy with a heavy dose of romance) was the best I’ve read since Kaz and Inez (yes, technically this came first but I didn’t get there first). But I think the thing that blew me away the most was how revolutionary this book was for its time.

Graceling debuted in 2008. To some people that might not seem that long ago, but in terms of publishing and where publishing has come in the past decade, it’s AGES ago. Honestly, the feminism in the book smacks of 2019, not 2008. I mean here we have a character who is in her late teens who says, with certainty, that she does not want to get married or have children, and she is never convinced out of it. I swear, the entire book I kept waiting for that moment when she would cede this decision, or hedge. I waited for the collapse I was certain was coming.

When it didn’t? I seriously almost whooped with joy. We made it through an entire book from a decade ago without the main (female) character ever renouncing her desire to not get married and not have children. For teens today, that may not seem revolutionary, but in 2008? It sort of was. Even more so that the love interest was 100% okay with that decision and never once questioned it. I mean… wow.

My only regret is that I loved it so much I finished it in a day. Wait, I take that back, I have two regrets: not reading it sooner, then reading it too fast. Still, if you haven’t read it and are worried you’ll be disappointed because it’s “old,” don’t worry. You’ll love it.

Buy Links:

Amazon

Audible

<a href="http://Graceling – Kristin Cashore“>iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Question: What’s the last book you had on your TBR for ages then read it and was like, “Why did this take me so long to get to?” Because honestly, I want it on MY TBR 🙂

❤ Aimee

Book Review: The Poet X

Trigger/Content Warnings: Body shaming, homophobia, sexism, religious zeal.

Author’s Note: I have recently switched my “trigger” warnings to be trigger/content warnings. I say this with particular care now because a lot of these books (I feel) deal with their tough content beautifully. This one is no different. That said, as one with C-PTSD, I understand that sometimes when we’ve been exposed to trauma, it doesn’t matter how well the thing that traumatized us is dealt with; sometimes, we just don’t want to read about it. It can be triggering even if it’s handled in the most appropriate way imaginable. I note this because I do not want anyone to believe my inclusion of some of these issues is a statement on the author’s handling of such issue. It is not. It’s simply there for those who may wish to avoid certain subjects. 


5121FXJUF1L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Official Blurb:  Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about.

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out. But she still can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“She tells me words give people permission to be their fullest self.” ~ Elizabeth Acevedo

I won’t lie, I am not a poetry person. I have read more poetry than I care to think about. It just wasn’t really my thing. Except for the Pre-Raphaelite Poets. I like them a lot. They talk about love and everyone dies. Anyone who has read my writing knows that’s sort of my brand. But other than that, I’m not someone who is going to pick up a book of poetry. Except I did, in this instance. And I’m really glad I did.

The reason I picked up this book was because it won the National Book Award and also because everyone is raving about it. Additionally, I haven’t read near enough books by Latinx authors and if you follow this blog, you’ll know I’m trying to make an active effort to read more diversely. Anyway, it’s a good thing I did pick up this sharp, smart, emotional not-as-little-as-I-was-expecting book of poetry because it was mind blowing, and it’s now going to give me a reason to introduce you to another one of my automatic 5-star rules.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about how if a book makes me cry, it gets an automatic 5-star review from me. I have a few of these rules, and THE POET X, a stunning book of poetry by Elizabeth Acevedo, brings me to another: If the book makes me want to create, it gets an automatic 5-star review.

This book made me want to write. Just the titles of the poems if read by themselves could tell an emotional story. It was clear to me that the author, as well as her main character, were head over heels in love with the written word. The book felt like a winding, twisting experiment in verse. It was a kind of playful, unabashed exploration in writing I haven’t felt since before I went to college, since before a “serious” pursuit of craft. When I put that book down, I sat in silence for a long while. Then I took a shower, and while I showered, all I could think about was how desperate I was to write. How much I wanted to redefine myself, to reconnect with the love I’d once felt. Until then, I hadn’t even realized I’d lost some of my passion. But I had. And this book made me want to get it back, to pursue it with the same reckless abandon I had before. It made me want to fall back in love with the written word, and there is literally nothing more powerful than that.

In a reading slump? Try this book. Writing slump? Give it a read. Haven’t painted or drawn or written a new song in a bit? Pick it up. It is a quick read and well, well worth the effort.

Buy Links:

Amazon

Audible

<a href="http://The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo“>iTunes

Barnes & Noble

What are your thoughts on poetry? Do you have a favorite poet? Or era of poets? Hit me up in the comments or on IG @writingwaimee

❤ Always,

Aimee

All the Rules We Break

Author’s Note: I know I promised this blog yesterday, but it’s been hectic! But! Here it is, alive and well! It’s not edited well because I just flung it up in a rush, but I did the thing, which is great because this post is about YOU doing the thing!


For a good chunk of my writing career, I thought when people said, “Kill your darlings,” they meant that writers should kill their favorite characters. So I took that “advice” and ran with it. Now, it’s sort of my brand. See, my debut novel The Wheel Mages.

I was younger then, and like a bright-eyed student thirsty for the knowledge of those older and therefore (I assumed) wiser than me, I took every bit of writing advice I could glean. When I had it, these gems, these treasures, these bits of knowledge that would surely make me J.K. Rowling famous, I attempted to use them all.

As you might suspect (since I am not J.K. Rowling famous), a lot of that advice has many interpretations and is quite subjective. A lot of it simply didn’t work for me. And if I’m honest, some if it made me really hate writing.

“Write what you know.” This is the oldest one in the book. Every writing student and aspiring author knows this one. “Write what you know” and “Show don’t tell” might be tattooed on the inside of my eyelids for how often they float through my mind.

I am not going to recreate what has already been done (both poorly and well) here. Google “Write what you know is wrong” and take everything you read with a grain of salt. Be especially careful about white dudes defending cultural appropriation for the sake of “art.” (Read: their Very Important (TM) writing). Not all of it is wrong, though. But “write what you know” can mean a lot of things. It doesn’t have to mean you can only write your memoir (although, if you have the urge to do that, do that, I need more memoirs to read!) “Write what you know” in the young adult spectrum might be more akin to, “Stay in your own lane” which I wrote about a few weeks ago. “Write what you know” could also mean that the most powerful writing you’ll do is when you’re writing about an experience that is intimately familiar to you. We all have unique experiences that only we can bring our perspective and voice to. But you also don’t have to do it all at once. “Write what you know” doesn’t have to be “Well, I’ve put every important thing on the page in this very first book and now I’m all dry and whatever will I do? I know nothing else!” Because I mean, that’s silly. We’re always experiencing and learning new things.

For example, my second book, The Blood Mage, (sequel to The Wheel Mages) features a main character who experiences PTSD. It’s a little chunk of who I am. A little chunk of what I know. My shelved manuscript, The King’s Blade, is about assassin mermaids, which (as you might be able to guess) I’m not intimately familiar with. But the main character is passive and stoic and it takes her a long, long time to find her strength and her voice. Another part of my story. In my current WIP, a 1920’s inspired fantasy, my main character is touch averse. Again, a little piece of me. It’s all about the interpretation, here.

And now you’re probably wondering … wasn’t this post supposed to be about rule breaking? Why did you just spend 500 words defending The Rule? Well, partly it’s because when I was looking for a quote about writing what you know being flexible, I found all these articles about write what you know is wrong, and they espoused a lot of “cultural appropriation is okay for art,” and I got mad and had to come to The Rule’s defense. But it’s also partly because I wanted to make the point that all these “rules” are subjective. They can be used, and tossed aside, and bent, and broken, and rocketed into the sun strapped to a Tesla. As long as you have a book you’re proud of at the end, however long it takes you to get to that end, then you’ve done the thing!

Speaking of however long it takes, let me talk about one of the rules that isn’t that subjective and which I think is garbage (for me). Please keep in mind I mean in all of this for me. I always hesitate to give writing advice to anyone because everyone is so different. This advice is probably really helpful for some people. I have friends and professors and mentors who swear by it. But it doesn’t work for me, and I want to assure people here that if it doesn’t work for you, that is okay. You can still be a writer/author/creator without some a lot of this.

The advice goes thusly: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” This quote is attributed to writer and activist Mary Heaton Vorse, but it has taken various forms across the years. Most of my writing professors used to advise taking at least one hour per day to write. To put your ass in the chair and get it done. To ground out words even if they sucked.

No shade to my professors, but as it turns out, academia makes a nice butt cushion. In my experience, 12-16 hour workdays don’t leave much time for the butt in chair exercise every day. My workdays start with household chores at 6:30 a.m. and don’t usually end until 8 p.m (on a good, 10 hours at work, workday). That doesn’t really leave much mental or physical energy for butt in chair time. I know people who get up even earlier to put their ass in a chair, and I admire that. But I have night terrors. If I go to bed at 11 p.m. and wake up at 6:30, with my nightmares, on a good night, I’ll be living on 5 hours of sleep. This is my life. Every day.

I’m not complaining, and I don’t want pity. It’s just my life, which is different than every other life. My life doesn’t have time for butt in chair exercises every day. That’s okay, though. As it turns out, I’ve been able to write 4 1/2 books in less than 4 years just writing when I can. Sneaking it in here and there when work is slow, taking days off solely to write, staying up late on days when I have the energy, putting a lot of time in on the weekends. But it’s not every day, and it isn’t consistent. Sometimes, I’ll go months without writing. I have to put food on my table and my primary job is what does that. No matter what though, I still get back to doing the thing.

And you can, too. You can do the thing. You don’t need every single “rule.” You can tell sometimes. Some stories need more telling than others. You don’t have to write every day. You can write stuff you don’t know (again, I mean like write about six-legged ponies, not cultural appropriation). You can write in tenses that aren’t active. You can throw jargon all over your damn page. You can write sentences so long even lawyers’ eyes will bug out at the sight of them. You can write how you want to write. It is your story and your voice and your art. There are really no “rules” to writing in the end. Only guidelines. Take what works for you and phooey on the rest.

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That said, what is your favorite writing “rule” (especially if it’s one you’ve come up with for yourself?)

< Always, Aimee

Book Review: On the Come Up

Trigger/Content Warnings: Gang violence, gun violence, poverty, drug abuse/addiction.

Author’s Note: So I finished listening to this book awhile ago and wrote a post to be scheduled, that apparently disappeared. Or I didn’t save. I’m unsure which but when I went to refer a friend by linking to the post and found it wasn’t there, I realized it was something I must rectify immediately. Sorry for the delay!


35068618Official Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

All these folks I’ve never met became gods over my life. Now I gotta take the power back. ~Angie Thomas

ON THE COME UP, Angie Thomas’s second novel, coming on the heels of her heartbreaking and powerful debut, THE HATE U GIVE, did not disappoint. In fact, if I’m honest, ON THE COME UP was better than THUG in a lot of ways, which is saying a lot.

The book, which I listened to, and which is narrated by the oh-so-talented Bahni Turpin, features an honest main character who is so true it’s almost painful. She’s funny, she’s sassy, she’s smart as can be, and she has a deep, deep heart hidden beneath a steel exterior. She’s a character the reader cannot help but fall in love with almost from page one.

Though The Hate U Give and On the Come Up aren’t related in the sense that they’re a series, they are intrinsically linked. On the Come Up takes place after the closing scene of THUG and does have references to the incidents peppered throughout the book, though you would not need to read The Hate U Give to understand On the Come Up. Yet the most brilliant way in which they are linked, for me, is the order in which they were published. It felt like THUG had to exist first, before On the Come Up could be brought into this world. It felt like Starr made a path for Bri in the world of publishing, and while that hurts to even type, I couldn’t help but be reminded of it throughout the work. As a white person, both books made me question myself and my biases and further examine things I thought I knew but didn’t. But I don’t know if the questions I asked in On the Come Up would have been the same had I not read THUG first. The order in which these books were written is not necessarily something an author should have to think about or concern herself over when writing the books of her heart, but the fact that Thomas did should also not be glossed over. It further highlights her brilliance in capturing a moment and a life and peeling away layers of humanity.

The thing I loved most about On the Come Up, however, is Bri’s voice. Bri is a rapper and she travels throughout the world of the story in a melodic way. Even her insults have a certain song to them. The language of this book tripped and flowed in a way that was deeply pleasing to listen to (and I’m sure read). It was also what made me enjoy this second novel of Thomas’s even more than her first. Good language will almost always win me over, and this language was stellar.

THUG was always going to be a hard act to follow. Everyone knew that. But Thomas, much like Bri, was sure to tell the world and its expectations of failure that she would not be silenced, and thank God for that.

Buy Links:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

For those who have read both, which did you prefer?

❤ Always, Aimee

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 😉

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—perfect 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’s bloody civil war―and 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’s 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’t meant to stay buried―and some wounds aren’t 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