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: 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: 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: 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

2018 Writing Goals

Well… 2017 has been a bit of a rough one if I’m honest (which I try to be). It’s been a difficult year to create for me and many others if Twitter is to be believed. But when I sit down and push all the noise aside, I realize I did accomplish quite a bit in the last year, which I will now reflect on.

  • I hit (and surpassed) the elusive 100 book sales mark for my debut novel The Wheel Mages.
    • Note: 90% of self-published books will sell less than 100 copies, so this is a real accomplishment even if it doesn’t seem like much in terms of sales numbers.

TheWheelMageFinal

  • I published the second book in my Changing Tides series, The Blood Mage.

TheBloodMageFinal-FJM_High_Res_1800x2700

  • Although I didn’t make into Pitch Wars this year, I did enter, which was quite a feat. Plus, it means I have a novel ready to query for (hopefully) a traditional publishing deal. The King’s Blade features a diverse cast of characters including a triumvirate of Deep Sea power by way of a competent assassin, a mermaid magician and scientist, a young king who has a knack for political maneuvers and on land, you’ll find a human prince who is softer than my average male character and a budding naturalist himself. I did more research for The King’s Blade than anything I’ve ever worked on, and I am immensely proud of it. Read more about it here.

With all that said, I do have some pretty serious writing goals for 2018. Let’s see if I can accomplish them!

  1. Create a real marketing strategy for my Changing Tides Series and execute, execute, execute!
  2. Pay off the editing fees for The Blood Mage.
  3. Finish the draft of the third book in my Changing Tides Series and get it out for developmental edits at the very least.
  4. Start querying The King’s Blade for a traditional deal.
  5. Finish my beta reads!
  6. Read, read, read (my TBR is out of this world and I can’t seem to stop buying more things to add to it!)

All you writers out there: What did you accomplish in 2017 and what are some of your goals for the New Year?

Happy Holidays everyone!

❤ Aimee

 

New Review of #TheBloodMage

Hi all!

Sorry I haven’t been around! If you’ve read my last two posts you’ll know I’m still struggling with mental health issues as well as trying to find a proper work/life balance. I think I’m getting my head back in the game slowly but surely and hope to come back to regular posts soon!

Because of everything going on I unfortunately didn’t get a newsletter out this month, but the next one will be sure to be action-packed! At least I hope 🙂 If you’d like to sign up  you can do so here.

In the meantime, check out this new review of The Blood Mage by My Life, Stolen by Books.

TheBloodMagePromo

Launch Day! The Blood Mage

Well… it’s here! Today, my second book, The Blood Mage goes out into the big wide world for your consumption. This book has a really special place in my heart. They’re all different: the books, that is. They all occupy different spaces in my heart, but this one is the book I felt like I needed to write. So I’m excited (and nervous) to share it with you.

Anyhoo, before I get too reflective, there are some special people I want to thank for making this book (and all the books in this series) possible. You can find the following in the Acknowledgement section of The Blood Mage, but I wanted to share it here as well. These people can’t get enough props in my mind. So without further ado, here are my thank yous to those who helped me put the book of my heart into the hands of others.

Acknowledgments:

Self-published authors often find themselves labeled as “go-it-alone” types. In my experience, this isn’t true. I’m fortunate enough to find myself surrounded by people who have all helped make me who I am and who have helped make this book, and this series, what it is.

First, I want to thank my little brother, Tyler, who has given me not only encouragement, but hope. His unrelenting optimism and shameless promotion of this series has brought me so much joy. TJ, I’m honored to call you brother.

To the rest of my small but mighty family—thank you. Always and forever, thank you.

I also want to thank the entire town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, who seriously showed up for the first book. Punxsy brought me my first reviewer, my first signing, and the first time I ever sold out of copies of The Wheel Mages. Y’all are fantastic (or should I say y’uns?).

To my best friend, Jen, I will never be able to say enough how grateful I am to have you in my life.

To my beta readers, especially Emily and Kelly, thank you. And a special shout out to Emily who was the hand behind getting my first book into its very first library, who has been an ardent supporter, who has pushed me to always keep challenging myself, and who has been a shoulder to cry on—your friendship has meant the world to me.

Always to my editor, Katie, but most definitely this time. This book has seen more revisions than I thought possible, and you never once faltered. When I was sure the problem was insurmountable, you made me readjust my vision and see a molehill instead of a mountain. I honestly don’t know how I could have done it without you.

To Nikki, my copy editor, who probably doesn’t get as much credit as she deserves because copy editing is too often overlooked—you’re awesome, and I appreciate everything you do. Also, I’m sorry I didn’t send this Acknowledgement section to you for copy edits, but I wanted to surprise you. Sorry if there’s something in here that’s making your eye twitch (and I’m sure there is).

Big shout out and continuous thanks to my cover artist, Fiona, whose cover design inspired the words, “I want to marry that cover.” Indeed. I don’t know how you do it, but you are a rock star. Also new to the team, I want to thank Tamara, my formatter, who saved me lots of time and cursing and made this print book much lovelier than its predecessor. I’m so excited to have you on board and to not ever have to format a book myself again.

Book bloggers, reviewers, bookstagrammers, and booktubers, y’all are incredible. I appreciate you so, so much. Thank you for supporting not only me, but indie authors in general, and promoting our work. Special thanks to those of you who have given me not only your time, but also your friendship.

Thank you to my coworkers at my 9-5 who have been amazingly supportive of my moonlight career as an author and have purchased, read, reviewed, and plugged my work. You guys are seriously like a family to me, and I’m so overwhelmed by your constant support and kindness.

Finally, to my readers, I want you all to know you mean the world to me. Even if we’ve never met, even if I’ve never said a word to you, even if we have met and I’ve been incredibly awkward about the whole thing, I care about you all so much. Every day, you’re the ones who make my dreams come true, and there is no amount of praise or thanks I could ever truly assign to that.

With every bit of love in my heart, thank you,

Aimee

Impromptu Blog: The Blood Mage

The Blood Mage came back from copy edits last night, and before I dive into final edits (!), I wanted to take a minute to share some thoughts.

First, I’ve decided to change the dedication to this book. I’ve written about this particular dedication before and how important it is to me. These sentiments remain true, and the current dedication for The Blood Mage will find a new home in a later book in the series. Because the series has now been expanded, some of the text that belongs with this dedication has been moved to later books, so I thought it appropriate to move the dedication as well.

The new dedication, which you can see in the published copy on July 18th, was inspired by some notes from my copy editor. She wrote: “Alena’s pain and anger over the previous events in The Wheel Mages is profound and realistic. She doesn’t simply bounce back like a superhero; she needs to work out her demons…”

Reading this brought tears to my eyes. My developmental editor and I worked hard to convey this message because, as I’ve written, it was essentially the whole point. But when you’re working on something over and over again, sometimes you lose the forest for the trees, so knowing my copy editor saw this was a really important moment for me. This story is about struggle and despair and hope. It’s for those who couldn’t find themselves in the heroes who bounce back. It’s for those who battle their demons, who win and lose with unequal measure. So the dedication now reflects that.

Second, to anyone who hasn’t started this whole editing process or who is struggling with it, I want you to know it gets easier.

Seriously, the first time one of my manuscripts came back from an edit (developmental at that point), I threw a fit. The first time something came back from copy edits, and I saw all the red washed across the screen, I thought I might crawl into bed and never get up again.

Now, I’m excited to receive critique from my editors. I can’t wait to see what they have to say, to dig in and fix things, to make the story better. When my manuscript came back last night, I was so excited to open it up and see all the changes. Because each one represents a change that will make the story more sound, more solid, more real. The red-line is making it shiny and polished and beautiful. This process has gone from dreaded to beloved.

Don’t get me wrong, editing is still hard. It’s an emotional labor, but it’s one I now relish, because I know what the end looks like and the end is awesome. So if you’re stressing out about edits or working with editors, or you’re dreading an edit coming back, it does get easier. Like most things, practice makes perfect.

Speaking of practice–my third and final thought for today: Indie authors, you need an editor. All the writing advice in the world won’t get you far enough away from your work to edit it with the same eye a professional editor can. I’ve said before (multiple times) what a difference my developmental editor makes and how she helps me solve problems with an ease and an eye that I don’t possess because I’m too close, but right now, I want to spend a minute extolling the copy editing process.

I’ve written on this blog about common crutch words like “just” “very” “really” “so” “and” and adverbs. I’ve railed about them on Twitter. I’ve been (I thought) meticulous about killing them in my drafts. The parenthesized comment in the aforementioned sentence is important because, ahem:

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This comment from my copy editor can be found on page 4 of my manuscript. Page. Four. I’ll note she says “throughout.” I thought I came for these words in my many drafts (there are 11 drafts, by the way), and I might have done, but I didn’t catch them all. Not even close. This is one of the many reasons why editors are crucial to creating a polished product. Good editors are expensive, but they’re worth their weight in gold. I really cannot say that enough. Especially for us indie authors. We have stigma to contend with already, and if you’re publishing in a popular, saturated genre like I am, you’re competing with the Big Five presses, so I encourage you to do everything you can to prove that stigma wrong. Good editors will help you.

So, thank you to my incredible editors, Katie and Nikki. I can’t wait to share the shiny with the world.

And to all my blog readers/aspiring authors/writers, keep your heads up, keep writing, keep dreaming. The end is a beautiful thing.

❤ Aimee

TheBloodMagePromo
Coming July 18, 2017

This impromptu blog brought to you by procrastination. Check back next week for the regularly scheduled blog which is about my thoughts on Kindle Unlimited. Don’t want to miss it? Make sure to follow!