Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

Trigger/Content Warnings: Violence, rape/sexual assault, physical assault, domestic violence, slavery.


27774758Official Blurb: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

There are two kinds of guilt: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.

~ Sabaa Tahir

I am late to this party, I know. AN EMBER IN THE ASHES has been on my TBR for so long that the book I own still has the above cover. It was bringing me actual shame to pass by it on my shelf, but I was also daunted because my days have been busy lately and it seemed so… large. But I finally decided to tackle it and WOW.

In some previous blog posts, I talked about a few of my automatic five star rules. I said if a book makes me cry it gets an automatic five-star review. I also said if a book makes me want to create it gets an automatic five-star review. Now, I introduce you to rule number three: the book that makes me stay up past my bedtime to binge read. Because despite the fact that An Ember in the Ashes initially daunted me with its size, I read it in one sitting, staying up well past my bedtime to finish it.

Dynamic. That’s the word that kept running through my mind as I raced through this book. It’s dynamic. This book moves. I could barely wait to get to the end of each page, desperate to turn another, to follow these characters, to know more about them. When we talk about a character-driven story, we should certainly talk about An Ember in the Ashes. The two main characters of this book push it forward in a fast-paced whirl of a song. And I loved every single second of it.

What seemed daunting at first didn’t turn out to be in the least. It was a quick read, if only because I became lost in it. It took me to a place where time no longer mattered. A brilliant story crafted by a brilliant writer. My only regret is that it took me so long to jump on this train!

Tell me about a hyped book that lived up to its hype!

But Links:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

❤ Aimee

Book Review: Muse of Nightmares

Trigger/Content Warnings: Child abuse, discussion of systematic rape, child neglect, child murder, physical violence, domestic violence, homophobia.


41c28whhx5L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Official Blurb:

Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.
She believed she knew every horror, and was beyond surprise.
She was wrong.
In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.
Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice–save the woman he loves, or everyone else?–while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.
As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?
Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.
My Take: 5/5 Stars
Laini Taylor’s first book in this duology, Strange the Dreamer, was a slow starter for me. I had to pick it up and put it back down three times before I tried it on audio. I had heard AMAZING things, and I wanted to give it the chance it deserved. It took me probably between 6-10 hours of listening before I started to REALLY care. But by the end, I was so hooked I could barely click on the download button for MUSE OF NIGHTMARES fast enough.

The slow start made me waiver between 4 and 5 stars for Strange the Dreamer but by the end of it and the beginning of Muse of Nightmares, I was fully committed. I wanted to know everything there was to know about this world Laini had created. I wanted to know more about the gods, about the magic, about the landscape. I wanted to know the backstory of every single morally gray character she created. I wanted so much more Minya. And Laini Taylor did not disappoint.

I loved this book so freaking much, that on the first day I downloaded it on audiobook, I stayed at the gym for TWO HOURS just so I could listen. Then, limping up my apartment steps, I kept it on. I found odd jobs around the house to do so I could continue listening. I finished the 15-hour audiobook faster than any I’ve listened to before: in just two days.

Laini’s characters are complex, deep, interesting. I was rooting for them, ALL of them. Because an interesting thing about these books is that there are no living villains in this world, just people who make bad decisions. That concept is simple and in its simplicity is brilliant and beautiful. I was swept away into her dreamscape, and into Lazlo’s.

Yet by the end, I found myself sated. I don’t want or need a spinoff. A Muse of Nightmares told me everything I wanted to know. This book (the duology really) is buttoned up. It’s as though Laini knew every question I might have and answered it right there on page. As an author, I found that more than impressive. In one word, I found it magical.

This series is magical, and comes highly recommended from me.

Buy Links for STRANGE THE DREAMER:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

Buy Links for A MUSE OF NIGHTMARES:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

What was the last book you read that left you feeling truly satisfied?

❤ Aimee

Book Review: Not That Bad

Trigger/Content Warnings: Rape, sexual assault, sexual violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse, domestic abuse, homophobia, transphobia, incest, child molestation.


Not that badOfficial Blurb: In this valuable and timely anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay has collected original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, and bullied” for speaking out.

Highlighting the stories of well-known actors, writers, and experts, as well as new voices being published for the first time, Not That Bad covers a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation and street harassment.

Often deeply personal and always unflinchingly honest, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

My Take: 5/5 Stars

I was seventeen when I was raped. I was a virgin. A straight-A student, headed to a good university, one of the best. I wore hoodies and jeans and skater shoes and gloves, always gloves, helped with the touch issues I’d been manifesting but was silent about. I had only had one sip of alcohol in my life, that time when I was eleven, and I found hers stashed away under the sink. It was disgusting. I wasn’t any of things I’d been trained to believe girls who got raped were. I was safe. I thought I loved him, and that made me safe, too. But I had no idea what love was. Love is not rape, though I was confused by that for a long while, too. It was confusing because someone like me could not be raped. That’s what they told us. And certainly not by someone like him. We could only be raped if we stumbled home drunk and alone down a dark alley wearing a short skirt with our underwear showing. Otherwise we were safe.

How ridiculous that sounds. But it’s what we’re taught. And we need books like NOT THAT BAD to dispel this disgusting farce. None of us are safe. That’s a terrifying, gut-wrenching fact, but it’s a fact. And this is a terrifying, gut-wrenching read to go with that fact. A read that was triggering as all hell. I said in a past post about why I use trigger warnings that I had not yet reviewed a book that triggered me.

Here it is.

And though it did trigger me and it was a slog of a read, and I had to take my time with it, it helped ease some of my suffering, too. This compilation of essays is powerful, raw, real, and diverse. Across the spectrum of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, women and men are raped. Over and over and over again. We are not safe, this book screams at the top of its loud, vibrant, varied lungs. None of us.

Yet we are also not alone. The stories contained in this book were hard to swallow, but they made me feel less alone. The words helped me, after I waded through the shock of hearing them, begin to untangle the knot of emotions left behind when you are raped. Shame and guilt and rage and despair and confusion and loneliness and doubt. God, so much doubt. To hear all these emotions I didn’t think I deserved to feel echoed in the voices of others eased a pain I didn’t know I’d been nursing.

So to those considering this book, but especially rape survivors, I say this: This book is hard and it is heavy and it hurts. If you’re not ready yet, I understand. If you’re not ready ever, I also understand. Choice is yours here, and I want you to claim it without shame.

As for me? I will never not 5-star this book. I will never not recommend this book, with the aforementioned caveats, because it brings forward stories to shine light onto the dark narrative of safety we’ve crafted for ourselves. And I think it’s time that narrative was torn asunder.

Buy Links:

Amazon

Audible*

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

*I listened to this book on Audible and each story was narrated by its author. It was incredibly powerful in this format.

As always, be kind to yourselves,

❤ Aimee

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

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

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.

book-2929646_1920

 

 

 

 

 

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

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