Book Review: The Hunger Games

Trigger/Content Warnings: Violence, violence toward children, child death, child mutilation, sexual assault, war, poverty, starvation, depression, suicidal ideation and thought, PTSD.


41ir9m8QQnL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Official Blurb: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

 

My Take: 5/5 Stars for overall series, 5/5 for The Hunger Games, 5/5 for Catching Fire, 4/5 for Mockingjay.

Stupid people are dangerous.

~ Suzanne Collins

I know, I know, I know. What rock have I been hiding under? To be honest, I hesitated to even post this review because … old news, seriously. However, I am a little lean on five star books these days (partly my fault for not making the time to read and partly a bit of a slump I think) and this series is really very good, so I wanted to post a Five Star Series Review.

The thing that works the best for me about this series is the subtlety of the evolution of Katniss’s character. It’s like a slow burn character arc that by book three makes you feel completely wrung out, right along with Katniss. But it’s magical the way it works because it sneaks up on you so you don’t even really notice it’s happening. With all the violence in this book, the character arc is very light-handed. It works brilliantly which is good because honestly, with all the violence this series brings to it, if a single other thing was heavy handed, I don’t know that the series would be readable.

In addition to the character arc of the whole series, The Hunger Games in particular, but also Catching Fire are brilliantly paced. I read them both in one day each because I could hardly put them down (even having watched the movies and therefore knowing what was coming). The world building is equally as interesting and dynamic, again, even having watched the movies. The contrast between the Districts, and the Capitol, and then the arena, is striking. I honestly wish we had a spinoff though that took me on a tour of some of the other Districts, particularly four and seven (Finnick and Johanna’s Districts). I guess this is what fanfiction is for!

But everyone who follows this blog knows the final word on “good book” is whether you have a book hangover when it’s all said and done. And let me tell you, by the time I got to the end of Mockingjay I felt like I might not be in any shape to read for at least a week. It was SUCH an intense ride. And if a series can do that to you when you know how it all ends, then it’s definitely doing something right!

What’s an older backlist series you really want to read but haven’t gotten to yet?

Buy Links

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

❤ Always,

Aimee

 

 

 

Diversity Check In

I met my Goodreads goal for the year (which was 50 books) so I figured it was time for a diversity check in! Don’t know what that is because you’re new around here? Well click here and you’ll get the scoop about what this is and why I’m doing it!

I think I’ve done pretty well this time around, but we shall seeeee!

Books Read in 2019: 55 (A nod to Audible, couldn’t have done it without you. Side note: Audiobooks count as books read, don’t @ me. Also, in the spirit of this being a post about celebrating diversity and trying to expand our reading horizons, it’s sort of ableist to contend that only physical books read count as books read, just saying).

Books by Female Authors: 46 (I feel like I can probably go ahead and stop counting this one from here on out).

Books by POC Authors: 17 (This equates to around 31% of the books I read. According to the US Census Bureau, about 41.8% of the population identifies as a person of color, so I still need to get this up if I want to read to reflect the world around me).

Books by LGBTQIA+ Authors: 6 (As usual, I note that not all of these numbers may be accurate as some of these authors may choose to keep their personal lives out of the public sphere).

Books by Authors with Disabilities: 1 (This continues to be an area that is hard to discern and lacking in my reading choices, as it turns out. I also am unsure if I include mental illness in this category or give it its own category, but that’s another thing that is harder to discern without really digging into people’s personal stories which isn’t something, as an author myself, I’m keen to do, unless the author is very open about it).

Books by Authors who are Non-Christian: 4 (This is another one I need to work on, but I do have a couple up on the docket for this month/next month so hopefully this number will go up a bit).

So all in all, I’m getting better about reading books by POC (though there’s still clearly a lot of room for improvement) but still need to continue seeking out books by LGBTQIA+ authors, those with disabilities, and non-Christian authors. Additionally, I’ve realized I haven’t read a SINGLE book by an indigenous author this whole year, so if you have one you loved, please hit me up in the comments!

❤ Always,

Aimee

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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: On the Come Up

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

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


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

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

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

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

My Take: 5/5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Links:

Amazon

Audible

iTunes

Barnes & Noble

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

❤ Always, Aimee

Bookstagram

Hey guys!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❤ Always,

Aimee

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

Book Review: 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

Why I Use Trigger Warnings

You’ll notice that in my last review, which you can read here, I made a point to lay out trigger warnings. In the short stories I used to post on this blog (but no longer do because they were for an adult audience, and I am a young adult/new adult writer), I also made sure to preface them with trigger warnings. Now I’m about to explain why.

For those who don’t know or haven’t been around this blog for awhile, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’ve been around the block with other mental health issues, too. Throughout the years, I’ve run up against generalized anxiety disorder, depression, self-harming behaviors, eating disorders, agoraphobia, touch aversion, and insomnia. These are the things that (in my mind), make my C-PTSD not “complex” as much as it is “complicated.”

For those who do know me, they’ll be the first to tell you I am also someone who does not like the way “trigger” is thrown around these days.

Trigger has a specific medical definition. A trigger is a stimulus such a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. This is why it is most closely related (or used to be) to PTSD. A trigger is not something that makes you feel upset. A trigger is not something that makes you feel uncomfortable. A trigger is not something that makes you grimace and wish you hadn’t read/seen/heard/touched that thing. A trigger is not the predecessor to a mildly uncomfortable feeling.

A trigger is something to be avoided at all costs. A trigger causes anxiety, panic, flashback, nausea, fainting, vomiting, sweating, nightmares, shakes, and tremors. A trigger is, in short, the recipe for a very, very bad time.

A trigger is hearing a mother scream at her children, then having your mind go blank and your eyes glaze over before finding yourself, hours later, with your hands clasped over your ears rocking back and forth in the empty bathtub, all your clothes on, mumbling incoherent protests against a phantom from the past.

A trigger is a boy who looks like that boy brushing up against your arm on the bus, and your mind stealing you away to years before, when it wasn’t just a brush against your arm, and you weren’t on a bus, then only coming out of the fog of memory when a kindly black bus driver kneels in front of you and tells you as gently as her contralto can, that this is the last stop, and is there somewhere you’d like to go?

I rarely use the word trigger. Words have power and when I say the word “trigger” I want it to mean something.

Because it does.

It does not mean uncomfortable or upsetting. Literature is supposed to be uncomfortable and upsetting. It is supposed to make you feel. If literature makes you uncomfortable or upset, it is doing its job. There were a lot of things I listened to in Educated that made me uncomfortable and upset. There are a lot of things I read in books I will five star review in the future that made me uncomfortable and upset. None of them have been triggering to me.

But that last bit is the most important part of this whole thing: to me. I am thirty years old. I have been in and out of therapy seriously since I was nineteen. At this point, I know what most of my triggers are (although sometimes one will sneak up on me). I’ve been able to beat some of them back into the realm where they’re no longer triggers but are just experiences that make me uncomfortable. I’ve had that opportunity, to seek and destroy the things that make life hard to live.

Others haven’t. Not only because some may still be young (this is a blog that is supposed to be teen friendly, for goodness sake), but also because others might not have had the privilege I have had. I know what it’s like to choose between therapy and food. I’ve been there, in my younger days when mental health coverage was worse than it is now and I was poor. Food will win. Every time. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to make that choice anymore. Others aren’t so privileged. And I recognize that. They haven’t had the time or the means to seek and destroy. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

So I write trigger warnings. Not to devalue the word, far from it. I write trigger warnings because I know how powerful words can be. And I would never, ever want to intentionally shove someone before an altar of their own demons and make them pay.

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As always, take care of yourselves.

❤ Aimee

Consent in Young Adult Fiction

Trigger Warning: This post, while not graphic or descriptive, contains discussion regarding themes of rape as well as consensual sex. 

Author’s Note: This post started out as a lighthearted piece regarding my discomfort with writing sex scenes, but I couldn’t finish it because it wasn’t authentic. I tore it up in favor of this, which is the real reason I struggle with sex scenes. I said I would tell the truth, so here it is, in all its ugliness. Please note the comments on this post will be closely monitored. Discussion is encouraged and welcomed, but due to the sensitivity of this topic, there WILL be censorship if necessary. 


My “first time” was a rape. It took me over a decade to summon the courage to write those words, and I’m not sure how much longer it will take me to publish them. Many of the people closest to me, including my family, still don’t know. If I ever publish this, I suppose they’ll find out.

I will not call it a date rape. I will not dignify the act with some kind of qualifier. I will not amount it to some lesser crime because I thought I loved the boy who forced himself on me. I said no. He said yes. He was stronger. I was afraid and froze like a rabbit before the fox. That is the whole story.

I attempted to fictionalize the experience only once, in a long-short (a longer than average short story). The piece was eviscerated (rightly so) by both my peers and my professor. I handled it with clumsy hands. The subject was too close. After that critique, I put it in a drawer and never looked at it again. I still get a little nauseous thinking about it and the way it felt to hear my professor say the character wasn’t believable.

Writing about sex has always been a challenge for me, and I’d be a fool not to recognize the glaring reason why. Sex is a challenge for me. I have been subjected to a lot of trauma in my life, but this violation is the loudest of all the voices in my head. I have difficulty being touched, I panic when I’m in a crowd, I am prone to fits of unbridled rage when someone sneaks up on me. And all those things are at war with the very real desire to experience human contact. I’m human, after all, and we thrive on contact. It’s difficult to explain the simultaneous pushing and pulling within me when it comes to physical touch, but I’m a writer and in some ways, it’s my duty to try.

Until the revisions of my second book, I was able to avoid sex scenes. I thought I could hide behind the label “young adult”, but the genre is changing, it’s growing, and I want to grow along with it.

After doing some research on the subject and some soul searching, I decided to reconsider the traditional “fade out” I’d hidden behind before. Make no mistake, the fade out is a tactic I’ve employed in aid of my own comfort, not the reader’s. That’s not to say all authors use it this way, it’s only to say I do. I’ve made no final decisions on what any potential sex scenes will look like in my subsequent works, but I do know if I choose to use this tactic in the future it will be because it’s organic to the story, not because I’m too afraid to confront my own demons.

Demons. That word has been weighing me down lately. I have so many demons, I can’t help but wonder if that’s why the girl with so much potential chose to waste her talent on writing fantasy. Because I want to live among angels, and if I can’t, I will create them.

My characters often speak to me from deep, dark caverns I haven’t yet consciously recognized. Inner truth comes from various places and in different voices, and often, it’s not until I’ve written it that I recognize it for what it is. In The Wheel Mages, the notion of “purity” is challenged. I didn’t realize it until it came forth, but that was something I had to confront in my own life. In this second book, I tackle consent.

You see, I realized that when I wrote that long-short in college, I was trying to handle rape from the wrong side (for me). It was a story that wasn’t ripe for telling, and may not ever be (again, for me). The story I do want to tell, though, is the story of what-could-have-been-but-wasn’t. I’m a fantasy author. I want magic and romance and love and yes, consent.

It’s important to me that my work depicts consent, even if it doesn’t lead to sex. In fact, if it doesn’t lead to sex, better. That’s consent really at play. I don’t think it’s something that’s talked about often enough, and if I can help that conversation along, I am desperate to do so. I often wonder if anyone ever talked to that boy I thought I loved about consent.

I know it’s faux pas to discuss “themes” in your work, to discuss this kind of planning, because when it’s discussed it doesn’t seem quite so organic, but this is important enough for me to break that rule.

So yes, though it may make me uncomfortable, I will take on the topic of sex, and I will do it in young adult fantasy because those are the people most commonly affected by the subject. The Blood Mage will have elements of consent. Spoiler, sorry. Hopefully, it will be done with less clumsy hands than those of the 19-year-old who tried to fictionalize her own rape. Hopefully, it will speak quietly but passionately. Hopefully, it will serve as the voice someone once tried to take from me.