Colour Me Red by Beena Khan

“Love can heal a person, but no one ever told me it can destroy a person too.”

Colour Me Red by Beena Khan is the third book in the Red series of contemporary romance novels. This is a prequel that tells the tale of two men from Red’s past, the one she could never forget and the one that broke her completely.

I have mentioned this in previous reviews, but Mrs Khan as an impeccable way of conveying the complexities of human emotion, particularly as they relate to romance and heart-break. The way that she crafts connections between two individuals in a careful and natural manner, building a beautiful foundation of passion and emotional intimacy, layer by layer, is impressive.

In Colour Me Red, we get to witness the multidimensional spectrum of relationships from the best parts to the worst and everything in between. The typical shortcomings in romance occur because of the flaws of individuals. All the characters have their imperfections so when they make questionable choices it feels as sincere as it does frustrating. Each of their imperfections ends up playing an integral part in the narrative as a whole and I was fascinated by the way that the author presented those key elements as the story progressed.

Red, who is at the centre of the plot, is shown to have undergone a couple of tragedies in her life and it moulds her into a person who does not like to show others her vulnerabilities. While this makes her a very headstrong individual, it also puts up psychological walls that make it very challenging to build an authentic connection with her. The problem with letting one’s walls down is that when the heart breaks, it can feel so much more painful, even indescribably agonising. Seeing Red’s downward spiral in the wake of finally choosing to take down her protection for that profound intimate bond that stems from love was as devastating as her relationship with Isaah was endearing.

The brothers are rather interesting because of how similar yet different they are, particularly in the rapport they each shared with Red. The darkness that seems to surround Saagh makes him more enigmatic and captivating, and I appreciated that he was so much more than a bad boy whose only worth is in stirring up drama. Instead he is someone who teaches Red a lot of very difficult life lessons in some aching ways, which helps to flesh out her personality across the series, giving her characterisation from The Name of Red more depth and understanding.

Some things to keep in mind while reading is that the narrative does utilise flashbacks with its storytelling, but its threaded so well with the plot and the overarching themes that I found their inclusion to be very engaging. Also, the book deals with some hefty content along with the steamier aspects (content warnings listed below), so I would proceed into it with some caution.

All in all, Colour Me Red is an excellent romance read and prequel to what has become a delightfully engrossing book series. I highly recommend this to fans of romance books as well as people who like flawed characters that are still genuine and endearing, and stories that do not shy away from both the good and dark elements of passionate relationships.

Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of the author, Mrs Beena Khan.

Publication Date: 15-Oct-2020
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Genre: South Asian Literature, Contemporary Romance
Page Count: 321
Content Warnings: Death of parents. Death of partner. Murder. Depiction of controlling and possessive tendencies. Depiction of severe grief. Depiction of toxic relationships. Unrequited love.
GoodReads: Colour Me Red by Beena Khan

Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar

‘My Ritu didi is getting married today
And I’m going to dance in her baraat all the way!’

Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar is a Queer own-voices Indian picture book about a young girl named Ayesha who is positively ecstatic to attend her cousin’s wedding to another woman and to celebrate the joy of their love.

My introduction to this book occurred when I came upon Charvi’s (It’s Not Just Fiction) list of five books she wishes she had read as a kid, and after having the pleasure of reading through Ritu Weds Chandni myself, I wholehearted feel the same way.

As a Queer member of the South Asian community, dreaming of my perfect wedding day to a woman whom I love dearly is as exhilarating as it is terrifying. This thirty-five-page picture book captures the root of these fears’ existence perfectly. Yet, it also does something else. It shows us that there is hope and a beautiful light on the other side. That not everyone is hateful and close-minded, trapped in their conservative bubbles of prejudiced ideals of love and companionship, and some of those kind open-minded and compassionate individuals are people whom we would least expect to understand: children.

The story of a young girl who is brimming  with excitement to watch her cousin marry a person whom she loves dearly, and how this child helps to make sure that nothing stands in these ladies’ path was marvellously motivating. The sense of adoration and enthusiasm that Ayesha feels pours off the pages via the vibrant and lively papier-mâché style artwork and the cute way she speaks in rhymes, maintaining a melodious, sing-song aura typical of South Asian wedding celebrations. I hope that this is the first of many more LGBTQIA+ South Asian picture books about love and acceptance of Queer individuals as the recognition of Queer identities and relationships needs to be normalised within such a derisive community now more than ever before.

Ritu Weds Chandni is a fantastically inclusive and heart-warming tale that is a must-read for all parents and children alike. The introduction to same-sex love and marriages is done in a sweet and accessible manner that shall help children to see all the shades of romance and companionship of the world. It also portrays the power behind that a single individual can garner with their voices and fortitude towards marriage equality, which is far too rare in children’s literature. For anyone wanting to raise more awareness and support for the LGBTQIA+ community, this is an excellent place to begin.

Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Yali Books.

Publication Date: 01-December-2020
Yali Publishing LLC
LGBTQIA+ Literature, Indian Literature, Picture Book
Page Count:
Content Warnings:
Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar

Best Books of October & November (2020)

Welcome to the Best Books of the last couple of months! In lieu of a traditional wrap-up, I opted to write one that centres specifically on the titles that brought me a lot of joy and engagement. This is my way of keeping things positive and uplifting here on The Djinn Reader.

October and November were really fantastic reading months for me. Not only did I read from a variety of genres and cultures, but I was also able to meet my monthly reading goals for both months, which gave me a wonderful sense of accomplishment in light of the reading rut that has plagued me.

There are thirteen titles total on this list and almost all of them have respective reviews linked up, along with their GoodReads pages (via the title), and a small snippet on what I loved about them. Aside from that, they are organised in the order of which I completed them, starting with October’s books and then moving along to November’s reads.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata: An own-voices Japanese fiction novel by acclaimed author of Convenience Store Woman about a young girl who was sexually exploited and neglected as a child, and the long-lasting effect it had on her in adulthood.. What makes Earthlings such a fascinating feat of fiction is how absolutely absurd it is whilst dissecting some vital constructs of the modern era, particularly where the concept of being “normal” is concerned, along with the various ways that the human brain copes with trauma stemming from abuse and exploitation. Couple that with a surrealistically straightforward and terse prose, readers can expect some of the most innovatively bemusing literature to hit shelves yet. [Full Review]

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim & Grace Zong: An own-voices Chinese picture book about a young girl who learns the magic of responsibility. It was cute to read about Goldy Luck and how she tends to mess up the tasks she is charged with. However, it was even more endearing to read how she goes about in resolving the errors of her ways. It portrays the togetherness and importance of giving that is a huge part of the Chinese New Year, so adorably with charming, simple illustrations that utilise glorious, saturated colours of red, yellow, and greens that surround the reader in a sense of happiness. [Full Review]

The Boy and the Bindi by Vivek Shraya & Rajni Perera: An own-voices Queer Indian picture book about a boy who watches his mother put on a bindi, and in the process learns about the multidimensional aspects of gender identity. Reading a story about a mum who treats her son’s curiosity and interest in understanding something outside of his expected gender role with respect and encouragement filled my own Trans heart with an indescribable amount of comfort and joy. This one act of kindness and regard helps her son to understand a bit more about himself, and as such, come to realise his own identity. [Full Review]

Mango Moon by Diane de Anda & Sue Cornelison: An own-voices Mexican picture book about a young girl and her family as they deal with losing their father after he has been arrested for deportation. This book was breathtakingly heart-breaking. The harsh reality that many families in the United States are currently faced with is brought into a vivid and straightforward fore in this stunning tale. We watch as this family’s life is turned completely upside down, leaving them with feelings of loneliness, loss, and even abandonment. The memories they have of their father is the only way that they know how to cope with him being gone. [Full Review]

Mooncakes by Loretta Seto & Renné Benoit: An own-voices Chinese picture book about a girl who is celebrating the Moon Festival with her family. My favourite part about this story is how centred it is on being humble and kind, while promoting a sense of family togetherness that is so beautifully soothing. The little girl’s curiosity along with the love that her parents have for her, depicted in the smaller details is powerful and uplifting. My second favourite thing is the artwork, which uses muted shades of browns, yellows, and blues with soft details and cute characters. This would make an excellent bedtime story. [Full Review]

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki & Qin Leng: An own-voices Japanese picture book about a young girl who is learning to play the violin via the memories she has of her grandfather who was a world renown violinist. Out of all the picture books, this is the one that brought me to tears. It is my favourite story from the bunch and concentrates on the outstanding worth of sentimentalism in pursuing our passions, while also celebrating different ways that memories can help us heal and move forward when faced with loss. Lastly, it also shines a bright light on always believing in yourself even when others try to surround you in doubt. [Full Review]

The Weight on Skin by Beena Khan: An own-voices South Indian contemporary romance novel that takes place in the same universe as The Name of Red, this sequel follows Kabir as he deals with terrible heart-break. The Weight on Skin is highly recommended for romance readers, especially folx who prefer a gradual building of emotions and compassion between two people; individuals searching for a genuine depiction of heartbreak that is not ostensibly imagined. Great writing. Superb characters. Lovely messages on the power of hope and the heart-warming promises on the other side of rejection. [Full Review]

The Deep by Alma Katsu: A historical fiction supernatural mystery about a young woman who survived the terrible events on the Titanic and finds herself aboard its sister ship years later, the Britannic, where she relives the tragedy via flashbacks and a sense of being haunted. The Deep was a wonderful historical fiction novel with an interesting spectral twist I did not expect. The settings are impeccably dreary with writing that is tight and meticulous. I highly recommend this to fans who enjoy the nostalgia of the historical fiction genre, as well as readers that delight in soft ghost stories. [Full Review]

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee: An own-voices Queer Korean science-fiction story about a young artist who is hired by the government to help control a secret automaton dragon via magical paints. Phoenix Extravagant is an exceptional piece of science-fiction that is beautifully complex yet approachable and fascinatingly original. It is one of the best novels released within the genre in all of 2020. Phoenix Extravagant is a superb work of genre fiction that I highly recommend to readers that enjoy a combination of steampunk sci-fi and inventive fantasy elements set against a tense Korean socio-cultural backdrop.

Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao: An own-voices Taiwanese-American young adult contemporary novel about a young girl who has a complicated relationship with her family that is further exasperated by secrets and their experiences living in the predominantly white Midwest. There are many things to love about this novel, such as the complexities of trying to maintain face that is typical of Asian cultures, how secrets can decay the warmth of family values, and taking responsibilities for our own mistakes and choices is the only way to make peace with life in order to move forward. My full review for this shall be up later in the week. Recommended for adults and adolescents alike who are fond of stories centring on culturally-rich, dysfunctional family dynamics.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: An own-voices Mexican Gothic horror novel about a young girl named Noemí who travels to the Mexican countryside to check on her cousin after receiving a frantic letter in the mail. Mexican Gothic was a remarkably chilling, eerie, and  devious novel that I am so happy I picked up. Noemí is a tenacious, feisty, intelligent, and strongminded woman whose determination and love of family makes it impossible not to root for her, particularly when the forces of nature seem just as driven to smother that spirit out of her. Between her, the outstanding ambiance and environment of High Place, the commentary on the gradual cultural murder that comes with colonialism, and that bombshell of a plot twist, Mexican Gothic should not be missed by fans of horror fiction and people who enjoy a circumspect creepy mystery. [Full Review]

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March: An own-voices Indian (Parsee) historical fiction crime mystery novel about a recuperating soldier that decides to help a local family in discovering the truth behind the deaths of two young women. It is a superbly written debut that shows the author’s natural talent at writing for the historical fiction genre. The suspense and air of mystery held fast, and the characters did not fall flat or fall to one-dimensional blunders. I highly recommend this to readers of the historical fiction genre, as well as to individuals who find pleasure in mysteries akin to the works of Agatha Christie and Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, but far more diverse! [Full Review]

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: An own-voices Chinese young adult historical fiction novel that is a re-telling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This is one of the best books released in 2020, which is evident by the lush and imaginative experimental writing of Ms Gong, combined with complex characters, a tight-knit tense political atmosphere, and some of the finest written brutality of blood feuds I have read in years. My full review shall be up later this week. Highly recommended for fans of Shakespeare’s original tale, readers of Chinese fiction, and those that adore fiercely strong-willed women.

Out of all these books, if I had to choose my top three, then they would be Phoenix Extravagant, Mexican Gothic, and These Violent Delights. Each of these titles has something incredibly imaginative to offer bibliophiles and bring out the essence of what their respective genres stand-for. If you are looking for any specific novels from this list, those three would be the ones I recommend above all else.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an own-voices Latinx Gothic horror book about a young woman named Noemí in the 1950s who ends up travelling to the Mexican countryside after receiving a frenzied letter from her cousin, Catalina, who has been newly wedded into an English family.  The fashionable young debutante packs her things and leaves at once. Upon arriving to High Place, the Doyle family’s shadowy estate, Noemí’s curiosity gets the best of her and she starts working to uncover the family’s darkest secrets, hoping to save her cousin before the doom and bloom of the house can overwhelm them all.

Gothic horror is a much-underappreciated category of fiction, so to witness a culturally rich Latinx addition to the genre was absolutely thrilling. Mexican Gothic not only lived up to every expectation that I had, but it also surpassed them by a marvellous margin. Ms Moreno-Garcia has crafted a tale that is positively sublime in its execution and a spectacular addition to the genre.

The novel has every ingredient needed for a perfect Gothic  horror tale. It is outstandingly atmospheric with an insidiously slow-rise of tension and terror. The romanticism is mesmerizingly interwoven with the discomforting and oft-times jaw-dropping elements of death and mayhem. Then there is the large, age-old house that seems to have its very own spirit, screaming out in anguish. There was not a single part of Mexican Gothic that I did not devour with eager anticipation.

The best part of the story is how the author threads facets of terror with the abhorrence of Western colonialism of a foreign land. The self-righteous nature of white supremacy paves a foundation for said racial entitlement via the grotesque act of eugenics, racism, and even colourism. Together this toxic brew slowly usurps the rich Latinx culture and the lands that belonged to the Mexican people. As Noemí uncovers the history of what happened in the establishment of High Place, all I could feel was disgust, outrage, and sorrow, especially when one considers how similar events are still happening across the globe in the present era.

The tale takes its time in depicting the manipulation that the Mexican people fall victim to, causing them to experience mass dementia and hysteria via a plague-like assault. It is breathtakingly dark and discomforting, taking some of my favourite tropes of the genre and giving them a magnificently original twist.

When we take a step back and look at the Doyle family, the owners of High Place, a sense of mixed feelings start to arise. Every single person with the exception of one young man are utterly unlikable and monstrously disturbing. It captures the reader in a bubble of claustrophobic solitude as we watch Noemí trying to unravel the secrets hidden away in High Place. In many ways, Noemí’s struggles reminded me of Crimson Peak, another Gothic tale made by a Latinx creator. No matter how much we want to believe she has found a resolution or even a potential ally, what she has really found is more questions and ghastly truths to turn the stomach.

“The house had metamorphosed in the dream, but it was not a thing of meat and sinew on this occasion. She walked upon a carpet of moss, the flowers and vines crept up the walls, and long, thin stacks of mushrooms glowed a pale yellow, lightening up the ceiling and floor. It was as if the forest had tiptoed into the house in the middle of the night and left a part of itself inside.”

I never expected to be as surprised by the twists with such intensity. There was a moment where my jaw fell completely open because I most decidedly did not anticipate what was to come. To be shocked so thoroughly was wonderfully exhilarating. It was wickedly disturbing and another perfect complement to the Gothic horror genre.

If there is anything that I feel readers shall find fault with, it is the pacing. The book takes a gradual tempo with its progressions, carefully unwrapping each titbit of a twist in a methodical way. However, that is the beauty and core essence of Gothic horror.   It is made for slow-burn, spine-tingling storytelling experiences in order to create the most cerebral and uneasy journey possible. The genre is made to push us outside of our limits of safe and comfort thinking and the best way to accomplish that is via a subtle and sinister narrative delivery. While I respect that it may not be everyone’s cup of chai, I only ask that readers keep that in mind when going into any work of Gothic horror, not just Mexican Gothic.

All in all, Mexican Gothic was a remarkably chilling, eerie, and  devious novel that I am so happy I picked up. Noemí is a tenacious, feisty, intelligent, and strongminded woman whose determination and love of family makes it impossible not to root for her, particularly when the forces of nature seem just as driven to smother that spirit out of her. Between her, the outstanding ambiance and environment of High Place, the commentary on the gradual cultural murder that comes with colonialism, and that bombshell of a plot twist, Mexican Gothic should not be missed by fans of horror fiction and people who enjoy a circumspect creepy mystery.

Publication Date: 30-June-2020
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Latinx Literature, Gothic Horror, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 336
Content Warnings: Body horror. Eugenics. Racism. Colourism. Sexual Assault. Gaslighting. Mention of suicide. Miscarriage. Death of a baby. Cannibalism. Gore. Mass Death. Incest.
GoodReads: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev Marchis an own-voices Indian (Parsee) historical crime mystery novel that revolves around a biracial man named Jim Agnihotri who is recuperating in a hospital after his time in the Afghan War where he learns about the unfortunate demise of two women in Bombay. Upon reading the newspapers, which have touted the deaths as suicide, Agnihotri feels that there is something strange going on and that there is much more to the case than appears to the naked eye. Freshly motivated by the deductive prowess of one Sherlock Holmes, Agnihotri decides to investigate the case on his own.

Murder in Old Bombay is an excellently written piece of historical fiction that is both transportive and insightful about an era that is rarely seen within the genre, the British occupation of India during the late 1800s. Coupled with the portrayal of a biracial identity and a curious crime mystery, readers shall have a pleasantly engaging reading experience, more so if they fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dynamic detective duo, Sherlock Holmes and James Watson, from which the story derives heavy inspiration.

My favourite aspect of the novel is the main character, Jim Agnihotri himself. Because he has two racial backgrounds—British and Indian—he feels quite a bit of a disconnect from both identities, like a wanderer just on the cusp of a border, able to see and hear the culture without ever feeling like he belongs to either one. This is something that we see mirrored in the interactions that Jim has with others, and an element that also works as a subtle form of allegory for the delicate political strife in India at the time (1892). Lastly, it makes it easier to empathise and connect with Jim on a personal level, humanising him in a manner that makes the reader want to keep reading.

When Jim meets Adi, the man who is related to the two women that died, their bond is almost instant. Adi can see the sincerity in Jim’s desire of wanting to uncover the truth for the sake of it rather than taking the periodical’s story at face value and it makes Adi confide in the soldier. Their bond eventually starts to feel like the beginnings of a found family dynamic, which I positively adored.

The investigation itself ends up  being far more complex than I expected it to be and it was fun trying to connect the clues before they were revealed on page. It also takes us into the heart of Bombay where we see how people born of multi-ethnicities are treated, spurned and subjugated to ostracism that illustrates the rift between the British colonists and their Indian commonwealth. Since the book takes place only a decade prior to the Partition of Bengal in 1907, which was preceded by an intense political struggle of socialist reforms, the socio-political ambiance of Bombay is quite anxious and stiff. Jim’s use of disguises also work to depict the many faces and circumstances of the people of India, which was a neat way of sharing the atmosphere of the time period.   

The writing was very impressive! One of the things the author accomplished fairly well is the mannerisms, etiquette, and social exchanges of the 1890s. Most of the time, I felt as if I were standing beside the characters as they conversed, or watching a marvellous film where everything was portrayed with careful authenticity. The ability to write so instinctively for a period that is over 130 years in the past can be challenging, but Ms March makes it feel beautifully effortless.

If there is anything that may be a narrative repellent to some readers it is that the context of British India’s conflicts can feel somewhat detached from the mystery plotline as a whole. While I appreciate its inclusion as it creates a fully enthralling sense of environment that is transportive,  it does cause the story to feel a bit drawn out. Another element that could be somewhat frustrating are the constant references to Holmes and Watson, highlighting their influences with a strong on-the-nose aura. Folx who are unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes may appreciate the allusions more than those who are already quite well-versed in the Holmes’ tales. My hope is that these references shall dimmish in the forthcoming sequel and as the series goes on.

Overall, I really enjoyed Murder in Old Bombay. It was a superbly written debut that shows the author’s natural talent at writing for the historical fiction genre. The suspense and air of mystery held fast, and the characters did not fall flat or fall to one-dimensional blunders. I highly recommend this to readers of the historical fiction genre, as well as to individuals who find pleasure in mysteries akin to the works of Agatha Christie and Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, but far more diverse!

Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Minotaur Books.

Publication Date: 10-November-2020
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Indian Literature, Historical Fiction, Crime Mystery
Page Count: 400
Content Warnings: Mention of suicide. Mention of wartime violence. Racism. Colonialism. Murder.
GoodReads: Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

NaNoWriMo Diaries #4: The Final Word Count + Important Writing Lessons I’ve Learned During the Month

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just about finished and I must say that while I was not able to meet my fifty thousand word count total, I did learn many lessons about the way that I like to write, what tends to hold me back in writing, and the overall writing process in general. For me, that means that NaNoWriMo was quite an insightful success and I am wholehearted grateful that I took an opportunity at giving this event an attempt. Today I wanted to briefly discuss how my journey with crafting a fantasy manuscript has fared thus far, and what lessons I shall carry with me as I move forward in my authorial pursuits.

When I began NaNoWriMo, I was extremely motivated and marvellously inspired to complete at least fifty thousand words in an Indian-iTaukei inspired fantasy narrative. The first seven days consisted of regular writing and meeting daily word goals. With the arrival of the second week, I began discovering a comfortable balance between life’s priorities and personal time for working on the manuscript. However, by the arrival of the third week, I fell behind due to a seasonal cold and then struggled with finding my way back to the track. I shall openly confess that initially I felt rather discouraged by my lacking ability to write. It did not matter to me that I was sick and needed to take care of my physical health first. Somewhere along the line, I mentally convinced myself I was a failure, which was complete hogwash.

…we should not allow those strong negative feelings to become their very own monstrous mould of barriers in our path forward.

This was where I learned my first lesson: life happens. If I did not get sick, any number of other obstacles could have risen up to stop me in my writing pursuits, or at the very least, cause a significant setback with them. It is virtually impossible to prepare for every potential hindrance that life tosses one’s way. Yes, it can be extremely unmotivating and demoralising, and it is more than okay to feel the frustrations that comes with them. Nevertheless, we should not allow those strong negative feelings to become their very own monstrous mould of barriers in our path forward.  

Once I was over my cold, I calculated that one and a half weeks were remaining in NaNoWriMo, which meant that I had plenty of time to formulate a plan of action and catch-up, or at the very least find my way to fifty thousand words by the end of November 30th. This is where I would learn a couple of more lessons about my own writing methods, such as self-imposed deadlines being horrendously dangerous for my creative processes, a one month restriction is harmful for my ADHD, and if there is no fun to be had, then there is no inspiration to draw from.

Professional deadlines do not bother me or impact my ability to get my work done. Since they are a natural part of life (e.g.: deadlines for work projects and goals, or deadlines for completing homework in a timely manner for school and university), I have grown familiar and relaxed with working with and around these sorts of deadlines. But if the deadlines that I have to meet are self-imposed, I have a far more challenging time with being able to meet them. My theory is that by giving myself a deadline, it is much easier to keep changing it and pushing it back as much as I want or need to if I find that I cannot meet them. There is no real risk or consequence of not meeting my own deadlines—aside from self-deprecating thoughts and feelings—and that prevents me from taking them seriously. NaNoWriMo is a community-based event, however, everyone must hold themselves accountable for meeting the deadline and there is never a real effect to the cause of failing.

My solution for this problem (one that is currently being tested out) is to have someone else hold me accountable and to create a reward/consequence system that gives me a genuine feeling of pressure to make those deadlines feel more authentic and realistic. My brain is very much wired to think in these terms, thus I needed to formulate a way to adapt to its unique understanding. Insha’Allah, this method will prove fruitful in some ways.

Discovering the intricacies of how my ADHD impacts my writing was quite a frustrating experience during NaNoWriMo, but it was also an incredibly vital lesson that needed to be learned and understood.

I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), which means that my brain is prone to highly abnormal hyperactive bouts of impulsive behaviour. What this means in terms of writing is that by continuously working on a single project for extended periods of time, I can get severely restless and agitated. The need to switch activities and do something else becomes extremely compulsive, akin to having an incredibly persistent itch in the centre of your brain. The problem with a one-month restriction with writing is that it requires very long writing sessions in order to be plausible (for me). When my ADHD is triggered, I have a relentless resistance towards doing the same activity again for at least a full day. Discovering the intricacies of how my ADHD impacts my writing was quite a frustrating experience during NaNoWriMo, but it was also an incredibly vital lesson that needed to be learned and understood. It helped me to better comprehend my limitations so that I can accommodate them moving forward.

Lastly, if I am not having fun, then what is the point to what I am doing? Writing has always, first and foremost, been a passionate hobby of mine. As I grew and got older, it slowly blossomed from a hobby into my dream career. Even though I want to make writing my profession, if it starts to feel like a dreaded chore—such as washing a towering stack of dirty dishes or having to give my cats a bath—then the passion dissipates. If the passion dissipates, so does my ability to tap into the deepest creative recesses of my imagination, which is a primary facet of professional creative writing. With NaNoWriMo, I became so obsessed with meeting the numbers that I had lost sight of my story and what I wanted to accomplish with the narrative that I was pouring my heart and soul into. When a manuscript goes from focusing on sharing a magical (or twisted) tale into a pile of papers that concentrates on numbers and outside forces (will this appeal to an agent or publisher versus will this appeal to my idea and vision), it can lose a lot of the charm that drives it into creation. For me, having fun and feeling passionate about whatever I am creating is one of the most important aspects of being a writer and I never want to experience its loss again.

As you can see, NaNoWriMo 2020 was quite an adventurous creative campaign for me. There are many fascinating bits of wisdom and observations that were accumulated that I feel shall only me to grow as a writer and to further hone my skills at storytelling. I am bummed that I was not able to meet the word count, as my total number came to approximately twenty-five thousand (although I did forget to update this on the NaNoWriMo website), however, I also began a short story collection during this time and I finished eighty-five percent of a poetry manuscript. So, while my fantasy manuscript still has plenty of work left on it, I also began a couple of other wonderful projects that I am genuinely excited for and look forward to sharing with the world one day. Plus, I know these two projects shall definitely be finished before 2021 hits the clocks. All in all, my NaNoWriMo was a thrilling success in numerous ways and I am so happy I partook in this event!

NaNoWriMo Diaries #1: First Time Participating + Writing Goals
NaNoWriMo Diaries #2: Balancing Life with Writing + Daily Goal Progress
NaNoWriMo Diaries #3: Taking a Break & Falling Behind

Caturday Reads: Indian Crime Mystery & Chinese Urban Fantasy

Good morning, bibliophiles! This past week has been rather uneventful for me aside from falling into a deep reading rut. Luckily, I was able to read small titbits at a time throughout the week, but I do miss being able to sit down and binge page after page after page. After dealing with this lack of reading frustration for approximately six to seven days, I finally went ahead and meditated to clear my mind of everything that was bogging me down. Alhamdulillah, that seemed to have done the trick (at least based off this morning’s reading session, which lasted a full forty minutes!).

Not wanting to waste a single second of these newfound reading energies, I decided to pick up a few books to check out over the next couple days and possibly into the upcoming week. One of them is an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of one of my most-anticipated historical crime mysteries of 2020, while the other one is a Chinese urban fantasy novel that has been on my to-be-read list for the better part of two and a half years! One of my favourite BookTubers is running a group readalong for the title, so I figured it is an excellent excuse to finally stick my nose into it. Lastly, I shall be hoping to finish a young adult Chinese historical novel that I began on Wednesday and thus far, I have been adoring every single bit of it. My heart and soul belong to the main character completely and I cannot wait to see where this incredible story shall take her.

Check out all of these titles below in more detail. Respective GoodReads pages shall be linked via the titles, so if you see something interesting, please visit the page and consider adding the books to your own TBR lists. 😊

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: This is an own-voices Chinese historical novel set in Shanghai and is a beautifully imaginative re-telling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Some of you may recognise this from last week’s Caturday Reads, where I talked about this being my most-anticipated read for the second half of 2020 due it being inspired by one of my favourite Shakespearean titles. I’m approximately fifty or so pages into this, and I love it with my whole heart. Juliette is such a fierce and phenomenal character whom I am crushing on with every ounce of energy I have. I suppose that means that I am most-definitely a part of the Scarlet Gang (so far). I look forward to finishing it up this weekend.

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March: An own-voices Parsee historical fiction crime novel that takes place in Bombay during the British occupation of India in 1892, it follows a man named Jim Agnihotri who has recently returned from the Afghan War. While recuperating, he reads about a terrible tragedy involving two women in the local papers, convinced that not all is as it may seem. He visits the grieving family and offers his services of helping them to uncover the truth of what happened to these ladies, spurred on by the readings of his favourite sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.

An Indian Sherlockian mystery sounded positively magnificent, so when this title finally became available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to request it. I am approximately fifteen percent of the way through this novel, and so far, it is excellently written. The prose style, interchanges between the characters, and the descriptions of the settings have transported me back into time, which is an element of well-done historical fiction that I love the most. The author seems to be quite a natural at writing for this genre, which is really impressive considering this is a debut novel!

Jade City by Fonda Lee: This own-voices Chinese urban fantasy book is the first in a series and involves intergenerational blood feuds, intensely savage politics, magic, and kung-fu. Beyond the basics, I have tried to avoid reading any and all synopses for the most part as I believe it shall make the experience of reading it all the more rewarding and exciting. I have heard it being described as a Chinese Godfather-esque type narrative, which just makes it sound even more enthralling.

Honourable mentions: Along with those novels, I shall be reading through a couple of manga serials. The first is Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto. This is a shōnen, martial arts, action-adventure series that is outrageously popular. Since I am watching the anime series Naruto Shippūden, I thought it would be neat to read the manga alongside watching the show. The last volume I read was Volume 40 and my goal is to read Volumes 41 and 42. The second manga series I shall be reading through is Horimiya by HERO, which is another shōnen title. It’s a slice-of-life romantic comedy series about two unlikely individuals who formulate a friendship that evolves into something more as they get to know each other better. I have read the first volume of this and it is one of the most adorable RomCom manga I have read in years. I look forward to reading the next two volumes and watching the slow-burn progression of the main characters’ rapport.

Since there shall be a lot of people out and about due to Black Friday shopping, I plan on spending all of my time safely tucked away in the coarse pages of these books as well as the fluffy, warm blankets of my bed where I shall be safe from the spread of the pandemic. The only thing that could make the weekend even better is a cup of steamy potato chowder and the cuddling company of my feline masters. Speaking of which, I shall wrap-up today’s Caturday’s Reads with a hilariously meme-tastic portrait of my old man, Azizi, yawning a hello.

When the enemies-to-lovers idiots finally kiss after fighting nonstop for the first two books.

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

“…if wishes were wings, all the world would fly.”

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee is an own-voices Korean, own-voices LGBTQIA+ adult science-fiction novel following a person named Gyen Jebi who has a passion for painting. When they find themselves jobless and desperate, they are recruited by the Ministry of Armour to paint mystical symbols that animate the occupying government’s soldiers. But when Jebi learns of the government’s horrifying crimes, they know that they can no longer stay out of the politics. Instead, they become determined to steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton in order to stand up and fight.

Phoenix Extravagant is an exceptional piece of science-fiction that is beautifully complex yet approachable and fascinatingly original. It is one of the best novels released within the genre in all of 2020.

As a fellow nonbinary person, the representation provided via Gyen Jebi was absolutely amazing, along with the representations of other Queer identities and relationships. It is such a natural part of the social structure and environment that it evoked a strong sense of emotional reactions from me, mostly of deep gratitude and respect. Being able to read about characters with the same gender identity as myself partaking in such a fierce element of social justice was positively breath-taking.

The setting is a fantasy-steeped Korea, known as Hwaguk, which is under the strict occupation of what can be construed as the Japanese Empire, or Razanei. The descriptions of being oppressed and forced to forsake one’s entire cultural identity for that of the same people who violently usurped one’s homeland is vicious and incredibly multi-layered. This is further enhanced by the rift between those individuals who seek to make peace with their new realities and the people who continue to fight for their freedom. The depiction of the political situation being a literal manner of survival is brilliantly depicted via the diverging populaces and the political ramifications that impact them.

I found the commentary and tension of the world-building to be especially relevant to today’s socio-political upheaval, making it feel far more personal and intimate than I could have imagined. Combined with the fantastically sophisticated and inventive writing style, the reader is pulled into an immersive and suspense-fuelled ride of dexterous characters and the highly daedal perspectives of war and how it is not as black and white as it appears to be on the surface.

My favourite creative elements in Phoenix Extravagant were the dragon and the magic system. It was such a beautifully unique experience to see how independent the automaton dragon was. It was entertaining yet enlightening and even a bit cerebral. Combining that with painting being used as a grammar for the magic system, Phoenix Extravagant brilliantly implements fantasy-laced, steampunk-style aesthetics into the atmosphere that one cannot help but be astounded by.

If there is anything that I could complain about, it is only that I wish it were slightly longer in terms of historical context. The political foundation for the narrative is so thought-provoking and interesting to me that I would adore a secondary book that goes into more details. I would consume it ravenously.

All in all, Phoenix Extravagant is a superb work of genre fiction that I highly recommend to readers that enjoy a combination of steampunk sci-fi and inventive fantasy elements set against a Korean socio-cultural backdrop. Bibliophiles that like intelligently written adult fiction shall also find a lot to adore here.

Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Solaris.

Publication Date: 20-October-2020
Publisher: Solaris
Genre: Korean Literature, Science-Fiction
Page Count: 416 pages
Content Warning(s): 
Interrogation torture (on page). Attempted violence against a cat. Mass Death. Bombing. Intense representation of oppression and forced assimilation.
GoodReads: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Caturday Reads: Chinese Historical Fiction & Taiwanese-American YA Contemporary Romance

Weekends are typically for self-care and moments of relaxation. It is about kicking your feet up and finding a way to unwind from the busy week. However, some folx do not have the luxury or privilege of being able to partake in resting shenanigans. Rather, their Saturdays and Sundays are jam-packed with projects and hours of grinding for the moolah. This is usually my standard method of activity during the weekend, so I can empathise wholeheartedly.

Since I shall be very neck-deep in writing projects, as well as some other beta reading plans, I thought it would be fun to start a small segment here on The Djinn Reader where I share some cute—and oft times very silly—pictures of my beloved feline family members, while listing off my weekend reading plans. The goal is to spread a few smiles and offer a space where friends can come and take a small break from whatever their busy weekends entail. I have come to appreciate the positive impacts of stopping in my tracks for five minutes just to take a breath and look at things that make me smile. It tends to help me tackle the remainder of my day with determination and a sprinkle of comfort.

With that being said, welcome to Caturday Reads!

Aside from work-related ventures, my hope is to start reading one of my most-anticipated books for the second half of 2020, as well as another book that has been on my TBR radar since its release in October 2019! Both of them sound like a wonderful balance of intense and dark, along with light-hearted and romantic; elements that shall keep me greatly entertained during my break-times!

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: An #OwnVoices Chinese historical fiction retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this breath-taking debut novel takes place in 1920s Shanghai where a blood feud between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers runs the streets, leaving the city in the grips of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper that has assumed the role of proud heir to the Scarlet Gang, and Roma Montagov, who happens to be the White Flowers heir apparent, as well as Juliette’s first love… and first betrayal.

I have been hearing the most incredible things about These Violent Delights, which has simultaneously made me nervous about picking it up, as well as gleefully enthused. It also helps that the novel is an East Asian retelling of one of my Shakespearean favourites. I suppose once all is said and done, the biggest question to answer is which side shall I choose? The Scarlet Gang or the White Flowers?

Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao: An #OwnVoices Taiwanese-American young adult contemporary novel about an outcast teenager who gets swept away in a romantic whirlwind while concurrently falling down a deep hole of dark family secrets after another Taiwanese family moves into her small, pre-dominantly White midwestern town. The story is loosely inspired by the 19th century Chinese folktale, The Butterfly Lovers.

Ms Chao’s debut novel, American Panda, was such an exceptional book. When I first read it, I was completely awed by how much it made me laugh as well as cry. It was one of the very first novels that represented a lot of the same challenges that I faced living in a conservative Asian household where my dreams conflicted with that of my family’s desires, even though I am not Taiwanese (Indian-Fijian). The similarities were both shocking yet comforting to me. For the first time, I saw my childhood as being a shared experience and that helped me to make peace with many parts of it. (My full review of American Panda can be found on my sibling blog, BiblioNyan.)

Given those experiences, Ms Chao’s second novel would of course become a must-read necessity for me. The only reason that it has taken me so long to pick it up is because I wanted to ensure that I was in a proper mood for the contemporary genre so as not to form any unfair negative associations to it. It took a long time, but I am marvellously ready to dive right in with very high hopes!

Those two shall be my bookish companions for the weekend. Whatever I do not finish, I shall continue onwards with into the upcoming week. Please let me know what books you plan on reading over the next few days! Do you have any favourite titles that you have finished recently? I would love to hear from you.

With that, I shall leave you to your Saturdays with this super comfy looking kitty named Kheb! He is the light of my heart and the ultimate source of joy in my life, even if he does snore like an old lorry.  Until next weekend, happy Caturday!

I present, a boat!

The Deep by Alma Katsu

“He is buoyant—of another dimension, one that does not experience the friction of the world in the same way she does. His fingers dart around the edges of a cigarette he twirls in his hand, and all she can think is ease. She has never felt that. She is more like the cigarette itself, passed from hand to mouth to earth, sucked dry and then forgotten.”

The Deep by Alma Katsu is a historical supernatural mystery novel about a young woman named Annie who survived the sinking of the Titanic, only to find herself working aboard another ship, the Britannica, years later. While working on the second ship, she is reminded of her time on the infamous maiden voyage of the Britannica’s predecessor; memories that are further heightened when she bumps into a familiar face.

Historical fiction stories that alternate between two time periods are my favourites due to the amount of depth that they add to the story. Being able to decipher connections from both eras is engrossingly fascinating. Couple that with my passionate infatuation with the Titanic as well as ghosts, then the compulsion to read said story becomes practically irresistible, more so when they are as excellently written as The Deep.

The best part of the novel is how fastidiously the tale is crafted with an adroit storytelling style that combines the nostalgia of historical fiction with an enigmatically eerie atmosphere of a ghostly mystery. The author utilises strange touches of spiritualism and superstition to create an environment that is marvellously creepy and claustrophobic.

The glorious writing is further accentuated by the extensively researched material that is used to share a tale based off a real-life tragedy. The artful examination of the varying class systems on the Titanic and how those systems dictated the “worth” of those who survived versus those who perished goes to show us that in terms of caste hierarchies not much has changed over the last century. This subtle exposé was a minute detail in the overarching narrative that I appreciated.

A couple of elements that may be a bit off-putting to fellow readers include the hefty cast of characters who mostly have seemingly miniscule roles in the grand scheme. Even so, each character does contribute to the plot as a whole, like pieces of a mosaic that are pieced together to finish a much larger puzzle.

Another aspect that shall be hit-or-miss with some folx include the gradual progression of events. A big chunk of The Deep is built upon dialogue exchanges and inner monologues to stimulate the different senses in order to immerse the reader completely into the pages. The slower pace works to increase the tension in a soft and unexpected manner. However, it also makes it challenging at times to stay completely focused on what is unfolding. I enjoyed the apprehension and anxiety that cultivates towards the climax as it felt more impactful due to the nature of the gentler tempo, which can be the key to a great mystery experience.

Overall, The Deep was a wonderful historical fiction novel with an interesting spectral twist I did not expect. The settings are impeccably dreary with writing that is tight and meticulous. I highly recommend this to fans who enjoy the nostalgia of the historical fiction genre, as well as readers that delight in soft ghost stories.

Publication Date: 10-March-2020
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical Fiction, Supernatural Fiction, Mystery
Page Count: 420 pages
Content Warning(s):
Psychological institutionalism. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (near drowning). Drowning (on page). Wartime injuries (moderate descriptions, on page). Suicide ideation. Suicide attempt. Death of a child (on page). Consensual sex (on page).
GoodReads: The Deep by Alma Katsu