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—and 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

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

Book Review: Becoming

Official Blurb:

Books-Michelle ObamaIn a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” ~ Michelle Obama

First of all, I have to say that I’m really glad Michelle Obama narrated this herself. It gave the text an extra layer of richness, and really made me feel like I was getting a special insight into the words she’d written. Also, she just has a lovely voice. Second, this book was technically brilliant. Probably my very favorite thing about it was how it managed to capture so much in so little space. Every word seemed to be selected with care, so that without using many words at all, a huge world could be opened up for the reader. Even by the end of the book, I found myself marveling over how much story and information I’d received in such a seemingly short space. That’s something that everyone, but especially a writer, can certainly appreciate.

Technicalities aside, Becoming was everything I had hoped it would be. It was inspirational, emotional, moving, and empowering. I laughed (often), I cried (a couple time). I was amazed at the courage of the storytelling. Without giving anything away (because you should seriously just go read it yourself as soon as you can), I will say that Michelle Obama attacked this book with a fearlessness I admire. There was no subject she was unwilling to tackle, no door she wasn’t going to walk right through, carrying herself with grace, dignity, and honesty.

Everyone should read this book, but especially girls. All girls, but especially girls of color. Girls who are marginalized, who feel unseen and unheard. Girls who come from families that are broken or intact, from families who don’t have much money but have richness elsewhere. Girls who need a little push to see their power. Because though this was Michelle Obama’s story, I couldn’t help but feel those girls are the ones she wrote it for.

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

If you need a little bit of hope, do the thing. Read the book.

❤ Aimee

 

Book Review: Educated

Author’s Note: For this week’s 5 Star Review, I’ll be featuring a memoir, which you will likely see many of on here as the weeks pass. Though I write young adult fantasy, I also have a particular fondness for memoir, and you can usually find me reading a hardback YA fantasy and listening to a memoir of some kind. So with that caveat, here we go!

Trigger Warnings: Physical and emotional abuse of children, animal abuse, religious extremism, sexism and misogyny, use of racist slurs.

educatedOfficial Blurb:

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

“Guilt is the fear of one’s own wretchedness. It has nothing to do with other people.” ~ Tara Westover 

Tara Westover’s memoir EDUCATED has made all the lists. It’s a New York Times Bestseller. It was named one of the ten best books of 2018 (also by the New York Times, among many others). It won Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Memoir & Autobiography. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for Best First Book. The list goes on. Long story short, this book has hype.

As a general rule, likely because I’m ornery, I do not flock to books with hype. Maybe it’s years of a being forced to read books I didn’t enjoy while I pursued my “classical” education in literature and creative writing or my genuine love for young adult fiction (fantasy in particular), but I tend to snub books with the critical acclaim of Educated. However, three things caused me to finally break down and read this book: 1. a free Audible trial; 2. a recommendation from a coworker I trust; and 3. it’s narrated by Julia Whelan who I once shared a room with and who I respect and admire greatly.

I am glad these three things fell in line. Because I am grateful to have read Educated. Tara Westover’s first book deserves every bit of acclaim, hype, and praise that’s been heaped upon it and then some. The book is bold, brave, and beautiful. Right from the first page, I knew I was in for a lush narrative. Within the first five minutes of Julia Whelan’s soft and smooth narration, I had to pause the book to say aloud (to an empty room), “My God, that’s beautiful writing.”

And it is. Educated is so beautiful that at times you almost forget how terrible it is. Westover transports you to her world so completely, you see everything through her young, and at times, naive eyes. You understand her so entirely that it’s not until you put the book down that you realize nothing makes sense in this place where this young girl lives. At least, not for me. And eventually, I think not for her, either.

Educated is one of those books that will make you think for days. It is triggering at times, especially for me, who has a history of abuse in my dark closet, too, but it’s not heavy-handed. It says what it needs to say without much judgment. It makes room for the reader to sit beside the author and stay awhile, and that awhile lasts long after the closing line.

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Let me know your thoughts and feels by sounding off below.

❤ Aimee

 

Book Review: Legendary

Author’s Note: Hey! Look at me! Posting another review! I’ve had some new subscribers, so for any of you who are new here, welcome to my 5 Star Reviews. Here, you’ll only find books I LOVED. Want to know why? See the first 5 Star Review post here. Interested in learning more about my books? You can read their blurbs here and get the prologues here. Want to know what I’m reading/have read that didn’t make an appearance here, or what is next on my to-read list? Follow me on Instagram at: writingwaimee. And now, with all the business out of the way, let’s get on to this week’s 5 Star Review.

legendaryOfficial Blurb:

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more―and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about―maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.

My Take: 6/5 Stars

“Only those who persevere can find their true ending.” ~ Stephanie Garber

When I read Stephanie Garber’s debut novel, Caraval, I thought it wasn’t possible to like a book (besides my beloved Crooked Kingdom) anymore. LEGENDARY proved me wrong, which is why you will notice it has received a whopping 6 out of 5 stars on my rating index. Legendary is truly legendary. It breaks its own mold. The second book in the Caraval trilogy, Legendary takes all the good bits of Caraval and cranks them up a notch. It’s faster, bigger, bolder, darker, richer.

To accomplish this, Garber gives us a new lens by which to view this dark, dangerous “game.” She gives us Tella — the daring younger sister of Caraval’s protagonist, Scarlett. Tella was made for Legendary. She is not Scarlett cranked up a notch, but in many ways, is the opposite side of a perfect coin. She is all edges and distrust and brash, sometimes reckless bravery. But like Scarlett before her, Tella grows throughout the novel. And like Caraval, watching this growth happen throughout Legendary is equally as fulfilling as watching the game of Caraval unfold.

But this time… it’s much less of a game. This time, the stakes are higher. This time, the winner is not so clear.

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes 

Barnes & Noble

Who else is excited for Finale?! Because I know I am! Preorder it here.

Hope everyone is having a great week!

❤ Aimee

 

 

Book Review: Caraval

Author’s Note: Want to see my other 2018 and 2019 reads that maybe didn’t (or haven’t yet) made my 5 Star Review? Head over to my Instagram at: writingwaimee plus get bonus photos of my pets (of which there are many) and sometimes the random stuff I’m baking. Now, onto this week’s 5 Star Review.

caravalOfficial Blurb:

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . beware of getting swept too far away.

My Take:

5/5 Stars

“Some things are worth pursuit regardless of the cost” ~ Stephanie Garber

Welcome, welcome to Stephanie Garber’s debut novel, CARAVAL. And what a debut it is. Fast-paced and riveting, the world Stephanie Garber creates in this first novel of her career and first novel of the Caraval series drags you in and has you begging for more by the end. I read it in one sitting. At times, I found my heart pounding. There were twists I expected, and others I did not. They were all handled with the same intensity, the same breathless waiting. I couldn’t make my eyes move fast enough. I just wanted to get to that place where I found out if what I thought was going to happen was actually going to happen or if Garber was going to swerve in another direction all together. The plot was as theatrical as the world the author created. It was so elegantly crafted I could almost swear Legend himself had made it.

And Scarlett. Oh, Scarlett. Scarlett is not like the main characters I’m used to seeing in this genre. She is unsure, shy, exceedingly cautious. Scarlett is responsible and serious, much like me. Scarlett is not a sword-wielding badass of a heroine (don’t get me wrong, I love those ladies, too), but is of a softer sort. But Scarlett is earnest and smart and she grows. Watching her grow was one of my favorite parts of the novel (if you can say anything is your favorite in a novel where everything is simply exceptional).

So hurry, hurry, one and all. Get yourself to Caraval.

Buy Links:

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Anyone else read this and want to gush with me? Want to shout about how much you didn’t like my gushing? Go ahead and leave it in the comments.

❤ Aimee

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

Author’s Note: I know! You thought I’d never be back, right? Well, here I am, ready to report on another 5 Star Review! I’m hoping to be able to revive this blog and also my IG over the coming months, so if you want to follow the progress there, my handle is writingwaimee. Now, onward!

darkest part of forestOfficial Blurb: 

In the woods is a glass coffin. It rests on the ground, and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives….

Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side. Since they were children, Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different from the other faeries, the ones who made cruel bargains, lurked in the shadows of trees, and doomed tourists. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake.
Until one day, he does….
As the world turns upside down, Hazel has to become the knight she once pretended to be.
My Take: 5/5 Stars
“The only way to end grief was to go through it.” ~ Holly Black
THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST, published in 2016 and recommended to me in 2018, was a fast-paced, emotionally charged page turner. The book blends the real and the fantastical in a way that, if not done correctly, would be a bumpy, jarring ride. Fortunately, Holly Black does it right. So right it makes you wonder if there could be a fairyland under that mound of dirt in the back yard your parents have always told you is a sand mound septic system. Maybe it is, or maybe the King of the Fairy Court is down there, with his entourage of sharp-toothed, winged, and antlered fair folk.
The Darkest Part of the Forest transports the reader to the small town of Fairfold, which might be somewhere in my native state of Pennsylvania, as Philadelphia is mentioned a few times throughout the novel. But Fairfold is far from an ordinary Philadelphia suburb. And yet… in some ways, it is completely ordinary. In fact, this ordinariness is one of the things I admired most about Black’s novel. Black is unabashed and unafraid in her portrayal of teenage life. Her characters were authentic in their youth. They were all the things I remember being: emotional and spontaneous; a little wild; a little reckless; unsure; yet often confident in a way you can only be in your teenage years. (If a teen who has read it reads this review and disagrees, I 100% differ to you, however).
I also loved the fact that this book is a standalone. We don’t really see enough of that in young adult fantasy. So all in all, The Darkest Part of the Forest was a quick read that left me feeling all the feels. A book I could shut with a satisfied little sigh and settle on the shelf. No cliffhanger, no desperate wait for the next book, simply a happy memory that also looks lovely in my collection.
Buy Links:
Has anyone else read this beauty? What were YOUR thoughts?
❤ Aimee

Book Review: The Belles

Author’s Note: Hi all! I know I haven’t been around a lot, life has been extremely hectic. However, I do have a few posts I’ve been chewing over I hope to get to soon, about agency (eek!) and failure (double eek!). In the meantime, I’ve decided that in an effort to support other authors, I’m going to start doing BOOK REVIEWS! Woo! They’ll be sporadic as I intend to ONLY review those books I think deserving of five stars. Why? Well, because: (1) I want to support other authors; but (2) I like to keep it honest here, and I don’t five star like every single book I read; but also (3) I’m also an author who empathizes with anything less than five stars. So! I bring you my five-star only book reviews. To begin, I offer a review of Dhonielle Clayton’s, The Belles, which was my most anticipated read of the year and which definitely did not disappoint. Without further ado, here we go!

23197837Official Blurb: 

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.

But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

27783510_10105455140147238_344651365_nMy Take:

5/5 Stars.

THE BELLES, Clayton’s first high fantasy novel, is a stunning take on the concept of beauty in society. THE BELLES transports the reader to the world of Orléans, a place in which beauty is bought and bartered for and those with the power to give the people what they so desire, The Belles, are revered.

Clayton’s prose is warm and lush. It drips and flows, so I want to drink in every word. Beauty is reflected in every aspect of the piece, but so is the price that must be paid to obtain “perfection.”

In addition to the take on beauty that permeates the page, Clayton’s depiction of female relationships was something that had me thinking for hours after I left Orléans behind. Her characters were relatable but not perfect. Never perfect. Camellia Beauregard (“Camille”), the story’s protagonist, makes decisions I cringed at, not because I judged her, but because her choices forced me to examine myself. Put in Camille’s shoes, I might have done some of the same things, and Clayton’s intricate use of language allowed me to make that connection both instantly and deeply, leading to a greater appreciation of Camille’s situation and the world of Orléans.

In short, I highly recommend picking up a copy, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes.

Buy Links (click me and buy Dhonielle’s book because it’s so good, and I want everyone to read it and love it):

Amazon

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

That’s all for now! Hope everyone is doing well!

❤ Aimee