An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir // Backlist Reads

I’ve been quietly collecting Sabaa Tahir’s books for years, but it wasn’t until recently when I heard her final book for the Ember in the Ashes series was coming out. That alongside a partnership with Penguin Teen has me finally picking up this series and reading it. Let me tell you something, folks, this book did NOT disappoint. Usually, I end up giving the first book in a new (to me) series 3 or 4 stars. It’s not a bad thing, but usually I feel like first books need to establish a ton of world building, introduce the characters, have some growth, and also include some plot devices to move the story forward.

With this particular story, I felt like this was next level. The world building was probably the most minimal part of this story, but I’m figuring that with the other books in the series that will easily be remedied. Here’s more about the book (CW: Rape and sexual harassment threats):

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 thoughts

I am so amazed and impressed by this novel.

This story is told through dual POVs alternating between chapters. There is some backtracking on some of the chapter starts because simultaneous scenes happen.

First, the pacing. It feels so natural and moves quickly without overlooking the details. I felt like each event led up to the next. I read some reviews where people thought Elias and Laia’s relationship was forced, but truthfully it didn’t feel like that for me. I thought their progression towards becoming friends was natural. I think it helped that there was an immediate physical attraction to one another. Ahhh young love.

The gradual growth on Laia’s part was my favorite. She starts off as this meek young woman who lived her existence pretty quietly. The experiences she faced while being enslaved to the Commandant really toughened her up. Granted, no one should experience what Laia experienced, but it did lend to her growth and strength. If anything, I would have loved to see more of Laia’s thought process and how she defied the Commandant than just see her pick up a knife and get right to it.

Elias was also a great and complicated character. I felt like the book emphasized Elias’s story much more especially with the surprises about his family, his upbringing, and the decisions he needs to make during the trials. I was way more enamored with Elias’s chapters than with Laia’s. Don’t worry, though. Laia goes through her own personal trials and they aren’t ones to be scoffed at.

I think the only issue I had was that there were a lot of sexual harassment and rape threats. While I understand this is the world that Sabaa Tahir creates, I thought it was weird that the only thing soldiers were interested in doing with women was forcing sex on them. Isn’t that weird? Maybe that’s just me.

I also loved that this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. It was the perfect stopping point to get you pumped for the next book without making you wait a million years to see what happens. I felt no rush to get into the next book aside from my own personal excitement.

Overall, I really loved the story and the introduction to this world. I hope that with the next book Tahir will dive a little bit further into this world, but for a first book in a new (to me) series I’m very impressed.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Throwback List Books // Sabriel by Garth Nix

Throwback List Books // Sabriel by Garth Nix

As a recent advocate for fantasy and a fantasy reader, I felt like it was finally time for me to explore the creators of the fantasy genre. While I love authors like Leigh Bardugo and VE Schwab and Kiersten White and Cassandra Clare for really modernizing the genre, I have to give props to the folks who paved the way.

Next year, my friend Deedi and I plan on reading more “essential” fantasy. For us, essential fantasy are the backlist stories that inspired some of the books we read today. They’re the stories that helped define what the genre looks like now. So we’ll be reading more of these in the future and today I’m sharing my thoughts on Sabriel by Garth Nix.

Sabriel is the story of a young necromancer with the same name who just finished school when she received a bandolier of bells and her father’s sword. She’s told her father’s been captured or killed, so she heads back to her father’s home in the Old Kingdom to find out more. What she does find is that her father has been killed and the bandolier and sword appearing in front of her is a sign. She’s to be the next Abhorsen; a highly coveted position handed down generation after generation to bring dead souls back to Death.

Along the way, she picks up a cat friend named Mogget and a human friend named Touchstone. While Touchstone doesn’t remember anything about his past, he’s willing to help Sabriel with finding her father. Funnily, she does find her father, but he’s not alive. With the last ounce of his strength, he explains that she’s the new Abhorsen and she needs to kill Kerrigor, a powerful Charter Mage who uses death to conquer the living.

There’s so much in this story that reminds me of many other stories I’ve read. The strongest are Nevernight and Harry Potter. For Nevernight, it felt like obvious nods to Sabriel. First, a teenage girl who is closed to death and not phased by the ebb and flow of life. Second, the cat. Sabriel is followed by a not-cat who can unleash a terrible power (and revenge). It reminded me a lot of the animal spirit that follows Mia around.

For Harry Potter, it’s a little bit more my interpretation than hard facts. The story of Kerrigor and how he split himself from his corporeal body to live longer and be stronger reminded me a lot of horcruxes and Voldemort. I might be reaching when I say JK Rowling was inspired by Garth Nix, but I will say that the life expanding theme similar to horcruxes seems like something that existed in fantasy for quite a while.

Another big theme in this book that I see often in modern fantasy is the reluctant chosen one. Sabriel is a little more willing to accept the role of Abhorsen especially when her friends and family are in trouble. However, you can sense a hesitancy with her as if she doesn’t want to be Abhorsen (note all the times she asked people to call her Sabriel).

A friend of mine pointed out how Sabriel was her first foray into the OTP. I was completely surprised that even in 1995 authors were writing fantasy novels with two characters that fall in love with each other. Sabriel and Touchstone’s relationship definitely falls into the modern fantasy category not only  as possible lovers, but also as partners who fight alongside each other.

However, the story did have some flaws. I feel so spoiled nowadays because modern fantasy dives so deeply into a world. Storytelling in general has advanced to a point where most fantasy readers know what to expect in the first book. The first book in a trilogy is always heavy with world building and slow on action. The first book isn’t supposed to share the entire story. It leaves the reader with a cliffhanger or plot devices to uncover the next book.

For Sabriel, it’s different. Instead of spending time explaining everything, Garth Nix dives right into the action. So much happens in this 350-page novel that it’s surprising Garth Nix fit everything in. First, it was finding Sabriel’s father, then it was finding Kerrigor and destroying him. All of which happens and successfully in Sabriel, which feels so weird for me.

I honestly expected this book to expand out to the two sequels and the prequel, but Garth Nix covers everything in the first book. No wonder there’s so many subsequent books explaining everything that wasn’t answered.

  • 4/5 Stars

The Backlist Book Club June 2019 Pick


Hey everyone!

I’m here to announce the June 2019 book for The Backlist Book Club. This book has been on my list for quite some time and because June is Pride, I wanted to put together a list of books that LGBTQIA friends and allies can read together.

On Patreon, I put together a quick poll for my patrons to vote for their book pick. The votes are in and June’s book will be: The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

This nonfiction story is Maggie Nelson’s memoir about her relationship with Harry Dodge, an artist and writer, who also identifies as gender fluid. The story is centered around their relationship and the baby Maggie Nelson is about to have as these two folks create a family together.

Here’s the official dates for discussion:

Live discussion with me June 29, 2019 at 7PM ET/4PM PT. Sign up at Patreon to discuss the book with me in an exclusive livestream.

Book discussion on Instagram is June 30th, 2019. I’ll be posting a discussion picture with some questions regarding the book.

I’m excited to be reading books for Pride and I hope this launches us into a great month of reading. Will you be joining us next month?

The Backlist Book Club: Now on Patreon!

The Backlist Book Club: Now on Patreon!

Hey everyone!

I just wanted to announce something I’ve been really hesitant to do, but now I feel like I’m at a place where I can do this and hopefully be successful at it.

Remember that book club I started a few months back, announced and discussed a few books, and then got sidetracked by life and didn’t pick it up again? Well, I didn’t want you to think I’ve completely forgotten, but I wanted to approach it in a different way.

So I’m bringing back the book club, but I also wanted to do something special with it. I love sharing my reads and my opinions on books and the Backlist Book Club is something I’m kind of proud to have created. But I know people want to see more engagement, more posts, and generally feel more involved in an online book club. And for that, I’ve launched my Patreon page with one tier: The Backlist Book Club.

Why did I create my Patreon? Well, generally I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I want to bring you more content and more for your bookish life, but I didn’t know how and where I would find the time. In truth, I wish I can make money off my blog and Instagram but I need to focus my efforts on my paid gigs and that means certain things don’t get the time and attention that they require.

So I figured I’ll continue running my book club, but also hope that I can get paid and continue to run it outside of everything else I’ve been doing. This is why I decided to create my Backlist Book Club tier. For a monthly fee, you’ll be able to help choose the book for next month, read insightful articles and interviews I find on the Internet about the book, and receive an invitation to a livestream of me talking to you about my thoughts on the book at the end of every month.

The Backlist Book Club will still be available on my Instagram page. I’ll still announce the book and leave a discussion post to talk about the themes. I don’t want you to think you need to pay me to be a part of it, but I do want to make more fun content around it. I wanted to make something a little extra for those who are willing to pay to be a part of the club. If you like participating with me, talking with me, choosing the next read, and really wanting to get involved with the book club some more, then join me! It’ll be rocky at first, but I’ll be asking for suggestions and improving the process as I go along.

You can become a Patron by clicking this link.

Thank you for listening. I know that a blog post announcing I’m taking money doesn’t feel authentic, but I hoped my explanation in all of this gives you some context as to where I’m coming from.

The Backlist Book Club // Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

The Backlist Book Club // Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Side note: I’m really loving this book club. I mean, it’s my own book club, but I love that it’s opening me up to so many amazing books. This month’s is no different.

Also, read this on audio. The narrator does an amazing job with bringing this book to life. He does accents and voices. It’s like watching a movie and it’ll make you continue reading with abandon.

Behold the Dreamers is the story of a young Cameroonian family coming to America in hopes of living that big “American Dream”. It follows the Jonga family; Jende is the father who recently landed a job as a chauffeur for a very rich NY family and Neni, his wife, is a stay-at-home mother who also splits her time going to school. She wants to become a pharmacist; a job she couldn’t imagine having back in Cameroon. Both of them are here to pursue a new life with tons of opportunities for their children. They strongly believe that they’ll overcome their poverty and retire in ten years to a little home outside of New York City.

However, things take a turn for the worse when two major events happen in the Jonga’s life. First is the notice that Jende’s overstayed his visa welcome and he needs to return to Cameroon. Second is the Edwards family and how their world affects the Jonga’s world.

This book is more than just an immigrant story. It’s a part of the book and you see the process for someone like the Jongas. You actually see both sides of the story; the legal and the illegal. It reminded me of the arduous citizenship process my grandmother went through when I was in school. She had been sponsored by my father for a green card when I was in 1st grade and didn’t get her full citizenship until I graduated high school. I would drive her to the immigration office almost every week when the day finally neared.

But there’s also this 180º view of the Edwards family through the eyes of the Jongas. I really loved the juxtaposition of both of these families. On one side, you see what kinds of issues the super rich experience. Issues like losing your job, feeling like you’re on the wrong path for your life, and suspicions of adultery.

On the other side, you see The Jongas living in a one-bedroom apartment in Harlem. You see them try to make ends meet with odd jobs here and there. All of this while your American status is being questioned. Not to be a jerk, but it feels like the Jongas are going through more serious stuff than the Edwards. Both are validly difficult, but it seems tough when your hard work to stay in America is thwarted because you’re legally not allowed here.

At some point, there’s a catalyst between the Edwards and the Jonga families. The Edwards family starts falling apart when their eldest son, Vince, decides to move to India. The other major part is how Clark loses his job with the Lehmann Brothers during the 2008 financial crisis. There’s also Cindy’s suspicions about her husband and how her obsession with the truth turned into more bad news for Jende.

As Jende’s court hearing for immigration looms nearer, Neni starts to get desperate to stay. Both of their paths towards American citizenship changes. Jende gets really tired of the immigration system. He’s tired of waiting for court dates and hearing judges deny his family asylum. He doesn’t want to see his family live in poverty, but that’s all he can imagine for them in America. He’s slowly deciding to return to Limbe while Neni is desperately clinging to the hope they’ll be in America.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I do want to say that it feels real. It feels like the decision many new Americans make because their financial situation doesn’t change or they’re also tired of fighting the immigration system. Jende and Neni are better off than when they initially came to America, but to continue to stay in America means always scraping by, always waiting for court dates, fighting a broken system, and not providing as much to Liomi, their son.

I’ll admit, I was a little sadden by the ending and how everything worked out. I was happy that they were doing what felt best and coming out on top a little. I can only imagine this is the same kind of life many immigrants live, but at the same time happy to win out over a system that’s desperate for change.

I absolutely loved this novel from beginning to end. I thought it was funny and light-hearted at moments and serious and frustrating in others. It makes you consider immigration in America. It makes you wonder if life in America is all that people assume. It shows that the American Dream comes with a stiff price and that’s for both immigrants and its citizens.

The Backlist Book Club // April 2019

The Backlist Book Club // April 2019

Hello everyone! I hope you’re all having a wonderful Wednesday. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the March Backlist Book Club pick tomorrow, but I wanted to make the announcement for April’s book today.

In April, we’ll be reading All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.

This is a novel that first published back in August 2016. It’s been on my TBR since then and now I’m finally going to read it. It’s been nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards and won the Book of the Month award in 2016. Have you read this one?

According to Goodreads, it’s the story of a young eight-year-old girl named Wavy who somehow gets romantically entangled with her father’s ex-con friend. My eyebrows shot up like I got caught sleeping in class. It sounds like an episode of Jerry Springer, but it can also be something beautiful between two humans. It could be one of those “love knows no age” kind of things. I mean, it’s called All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. 

A friend of mine told me that this book would stir up some really good discussions and I can imagine. A story about an eight-year-old falling in love with an adult man doesn’t sound like a romance story to me, but I’m not one to judge books by their cover and I’ll read this controversy or otherwise.

I’ll be reading this in the middle of the month and everyone’s welcome to the discussion post at the end of the month on Instagram and on the blog. Don’t forget to use #TheBacklistBookClub on social media if you’ll be following along. Will you be joining us next month?

The Backlist Book Club // March 2019

The Backlist Book Club // March 2019

Last month, I ran a poll on my Instagram on what should be the Backlist Book Club February pick. It was between The Underground Railroad and Behold the Dreamers. The majority picked The Underground Railroad.

I’m so thrilled that they picked that book because it was amazing and really pulled my February together for me. Now that it’s March, it’s time to pick a new book. For March’s Backlist Book Club, we’ll be reading Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue.

Because this is The Backlist Book Club, no books get left behind. Because this was the second choice, I want to make sure I don’t go another year without reading it. I’m super excited about this one and I’m going to share the synopsis below.

The one change I will be making in my book club rules is my readathon. It seems like my weekends are much busier than I thought and I can’t commit to sitting on my butt all weekend and reading the book. Therefore, I’ll still announce when I’ll be reading the book and you’re more than welcome to join me, but I won’t be as diligent with the updating on social media while I do it. I think it’ll be easier for me to pay attention to the book than pay attention to my phone.

Of course I’ll still be hosting my discussion on my page and I’ll be writing my final thoughts at the end of the month. Here’s the important dates:

  • I’ll be reading March 16 – 17, 2019
  • Discussion post and my final thoughts are March 29, 2019

Who’s ready to dive into this beautiful book with me this month?

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

The Backlist Book Club: February 2019 Pick

The Backlist Book Club: February 2019 Pick

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This month’s choice for The Backlist Book Club is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.

I knew that I wanted my book for February to be a diverse author. Since it’s also Black History Month I wanted something by an African American author. I wasn’t looking to read something historic, but I guess I will be since this book takes place during the years of the underground railroad.

I love going into books without knowing what the book is about, but I’ve heard this book is amazing. I’ve also heard that this book can get pretty dry and sometimes feels like a history lesson than fiction. That makes me a little nervous since I’m definitely a plot-driven reader, so this is going to be an interesting experience for you and me.

Readathon for the book is February 16-17 and I’ll be posting my final thoughts here and on Instagram on February 28th. Will you be reading with us? Have you already read this one?

Introducing: The Backlist Book Club

Introducing: The Backlist Book Club

I’m so excited about this because 1) I’m starting a book club 2) I’m finally reading those dang books I’ve had on my shelves for years.

The objective of the Backlist Book Club is to read the books we’ve had on our shelves for years. Every month, I’ll announce a book published any time before the current year. For example, in 2018, anything published in 2017 and older is game to read. However, I do want to outline some other important pieces of the book club:

  1. We will mostly choose standalone novels. It’s tough to start a brand new series or read a book mid-series if everyone else isn’t reading it too. There’s a ton of standalone books I haven’t read yet and I want to get into those instead.
  2. I’ll announce the book prior to the month it’ll be read and then live-read the books on social media mid-month. It will always be around the 15th of the month. You’re more than welcome to join me in reading that weekend, but if you can’t make it, use hashtag #thebacklistbookclub to join in on the fun.
  3. The authors will be a mix. I was thinking of doing only authors of color or only female authors, but in truth there are some books that I want to read off my shelf that follow neither category. I do want to be mindful of who we’re reading, so it’ll always be a little bit diverse.
  4. The books should be accessible. Because I’m choosing books that were published prior to the current year, these books should be accessible through your library holds and the like. Hopefully. If anything, I’ll find you deals for books and share them with you.
  5. I want this to be our book club. Being inundated with brand new books all the time means books you wanted to read get put on the back burner. I want this to be an effort for all of us to continue choosing books on our shelf. Also, I want this book club to be about us. This means that I want you to help in the process of picking books in the future. For now, I’ll just pick the books off my shelf and I’ll introduce polls on Twitter for new reads.

Finally, I’m announcing our first book for December. This book was published in 2017, been sitting on my shelf for the last six months and making its debut on my TBR. That book is…

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

32956365Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.