Burning Roses by S.L. Huang

“Her bigotry had destroyed everything good in her life, and still she couldn’t twist free of it.”

Burning Roses by S.L. Huang is an adult own-voices Queer Chinese fantasy novella about Rose (a.k.a. Red Riding Hood) and an archer named Hou Yi. Together they join forces to stop deadly sunbirds from ravaging the countryside. Their journey shall take them into a reckoning of terrible sacrifices, a mourning of mistakes, of choices, and also of family amid a quest for immortality.

Burning Roses is a story that beguiled me from beginning to end. The richness of the culture, the complexities of intertwining a multitude of fairy tales to share an overarching narrative, the flawed yet highly engaging characters that readers begin to root for, and the themes of nostalgia-ridden soul-searching—all of these facets had me captivated from its very first page, making it one of the best novellas that I have read in all of 2020.

The most intimidating aspect of this book is that it retells a large handful of familiar, mostly Western fairy tales, such as Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Beauty and the Beast, and Hou Yi (a Chinese fairy tale). They are all effortlessly interwoven to depict a perfectly paced and intricate narrative about what it means to get older and to try to find some semblance of peace within oneself. Older readers especially will feel a deeply intimate relation to these specific topics, more so if one has ever felt that life spiralled past them too quickly or was too full of regrets. Because of this the essence of the tale that unfolds is decidedly dark. It was so unexpected that when I became enveloped by its presence I was left feeling immensely surprised and wholeheartedly delighted by its progression.

When we think about fairy tales usually we are left with images of gallant heroes saving their significant others, or embarking on grand adventures full of splendour. While there is plenty of splendour and magic to go around within the universe of Burning Roses, the heroes are not what they seem to be. Envisioning good characters turning into morally grey or even villainous ones was some of the most creatively seductive elements of the reading experience.

Even with these glorious attributes, the bulk of Burning Roses’ beauty lies in its main characters. Hou Yi—a gender-bent depiction—and Rose were mesmerising in their struggles with their inner turmoil and their sapphic romance. The more acclimated we become with the introspective ghosts that haunt them and the purpose of their journey, the easier it becomes to wish for their happy ending. I felt a kinship with both individuals on a personal level as they reminded me so much of my parents, a point I am sure was intentional. The cerebral thematic elements of Burning Roses orbits the notion of parents living vicariously via their children, a notion that many Asian kids and kids of conservative communities will be able to correlate to, I am sure.

My only critique of the novella is in regard to the world-building. It is such an imaginative universe that sometimes feels rather underdeveloped. This may be due to the short length (approximately one-hundred-sixty pages) or it can be attributed to the concentration on character growth. Either way, I adored what was shared and craved for more concrete dimension to the settings and atmosphere of this fantastic realm.

Overall, I highly recommend Burning Roses to readers of multicultural fantasies and to fans of beautifully re-imagined fairy tale retellings alike.

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

Publication Date: 29-September-2020
Publisher: Tordotcom
Genre: Adult Fantasy, Chinese Literature, LGBTQIA+ Literature
Page Count: 160
GoodReads: Burning Roses S.L. Huang

NaNoWriMo Diaries #2: Balancing Life with Writing + Daily Goal Progress

Welcome to the start of the second week of NaNoWriMo! Today, I wanted to chat about how the first seven days fared for me, and the challenges of trying to balance writing with my personal life. For folx who are new here to this segment and to this blog, today’s post is a part of a short Sunday series that I am holding on The Djinn Reader called The NaNoWriMo Diaries, where I shall be discussing my experiences—the good, the bad, and the in-between—with my first-time participating in this national novel writing event.

Aesthetic for my WIP

When I first sat down to begin work on my adult South Asian-Polynesian fantasy novel, I felt rather intimidated. The more that I contemplated the prospect of trying to complete a full-sized novel within the span of thirty days, the worse that my anxiety became. I confided in a friend about my woes and they were kind enough to gift me with a copy of Scrivener (a professional novel writing computer programme) to help motivate me and encourage me to not give up or feel overwhelmed before I even had the chance to write my first words. I became wholly emotional, but that spot of support was all that I needed to conquer those initial fears.

Since I work as full-time blogger and beta reader, and have been on recovery from a heart-related surgery for these past few weeks, my ability to devote large chunks of time to writing seemed nigh impossible. On day one, I had a plan to write before I did anything else, between the hours of three and six am (I am a nocturnal human). My total word count for that day was about twenty-two hundred. I was stunned yet excited to be able to accomplish so much on the first day.

The second day and the rest of the week, mostly, became less productive as the world went into mass discomfort with the start of the American elections. The stress of waiting to see who would be elected President of the United States, and the tension from virtually everyone on every online space, was practically palpable. It created a vortex of restlessness and an inability to focus on much of anything, including my self-care activity of daily blogging. My main source of reprieve came from either video games or binge-watching comfort films.

Even so, I did manage to put in small portions of writing time aside so that I could chip away at my story word-by-word, and now that the first week has ended, I am glad that I put in that extra effort as I feel less overwhelmed about being a few hundred words behind schedule.

My overall mood while writing has been comfortable. While I did struggle with putting the plot pieces together on a couple of specific chapters, I also reminded myself that I was working on a first draft and it was okay to not have a polished work of perfection by the end. The point of writing a first draft is to get all of the ideas and main points down on to the paper so that a skeleton of a story can be established. The second and third drafts are for adding flesh to the tale via severe editing, adding things, cutting things—all of the beautiful elements of being an author who is also their own editor. I put this reminder on a sticky note that I then stuck next to my computer so that way if I ever started to feel like I was inadequate or crafting a mess of a book, I could glance to it and remind myself to take a breath, calm down, and go slowly.

Thursday night, or day five of NaNoWriMo, I sat down and wrote out a schedule for myself that incorporates everything that I need to/like to do in the span of a single day. I am someone who has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and is on the Autism spectrum, and, thus, require some semblance of rigidity in order to function contentedly. Friday morning, I put my plan into motion, and it did wonders for me! I ended up clocking out my total word count for that day at approximately four thousand! The last time that I had written so many words for a creative project was in June of last year (2019). So, having a cemented routine that clearly dedicates a few hours to writing and nothing else definitely helped me with formulating a beautifully functioning balance between my personal life, work life, and authoring life.

While I have been struggling with meeting that daily goal, as I mentioned above, I feel that it is justifiable given the chaotic nature of this past week. Going into the second week, I hope to stay more diligent and devoted to working through any emotional and mental obstacles that may arise, as I feel if I ever get professionally published, this will be necessary skill to have, especially where strict deadlines are concerned. This does not mean that I shall sacrifice my psychological well-being. More than anything else, I will need to ensure that self-care is a part of my daily routine so that when I do have extremely exhausting or tough writing sessions, I can recover without burning myself out.

My goals for week two are more like pieces of advice to myself: take it one word at a time when things starts to feel rough, and do not be afraid of writing an alternate chapter to experiment with the flow of the overarching narrative! Also, do not delete anything until the revision process!

How has writing been for you lately? Have you discovered any neat tricks or tips to help keep you motivated and inspired? How do you deal with anxiety while writing?

The Trouble with TBRs & Finding Balance: A Small Discussion + November’s Planned Reads

One of the bookish goals that I have for 2021 is to create miniature monthly To-Be-Read (TBR) lists in order to give myself some discipline with reading books that I have owned for an extended period of time.  Like many fellow bibliophiles, I have a strong tendency to purchase stacks of books when I am feeling extremely stressed out or when I desperately need to indulge in a bit of self-care, usually when nothing else has worked. While it is a fantastic way to build up a gargantuan library, it can leave a person feeling wholeheartedly guilty when they go unread, catching layers upon layers of dust on those blood-red bookshelves.

In the past, I have tried to create TBRs, to no avail. I am someone who reads based on my mood in that moment. My cravings for thrillers and fantasy and literary works, to name a few, can shift from day-to-day, or even from hour-to-hour if my ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is restless. The last time that I attempted sticking to a full-sized TBR (approximately six to seven books) was at the beginning of 2020. In the end, I became intimidated by own list and abandoned the stack entirely.

As someone who lives with at-times severe OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), not being able to stick to a list such as this made very little sense to me and worked to further exasperate my frustrations. Especially with having ADHD, creating and abiding by lists for daily activities and work tasks helps my brain to feel less untidy and prone to anxiety. When I mentioned this to my therapist, they suggested that maybe my lists are too ambitious. Their suggestion was trying to find a balance that could accommodate my impulsive reading moods while also providing me with a small semblance of the discipline that I craved.

Honestly speaking, I felt a bit sceptical about the idea. Maybe that is due to my poor experiences with TBRs in general, or it can be chocked up to the somewhat apathetic pessimist that resides deep within my heart. Either way, after giving it much more thought, I realised by trying out their suggestion, I was not really losing anything. There would be no damage, at least not more than the normal feelings of disappointment that comes with not finishing a task. If it did work out, then not only would I be pleasantly surprised, but I would have found a solution to a very large bookish annoyance.

So, for November, I have crafted a miniature TBR pile to experiment with my therapist’s suggestion and see how it fares. There are only three titles in this stack since the end-of-year holidays tend to be the months where my reading moods are the most fidgety. If this ends up turning into a success, I can experiment with increasing the number of books slowly in future months.

I stuck to one overarching genre—fantasy—in order to keep things simple. The only real variety are the reading levels (middle-grade and adult) and the cultural backgrounds with which these tales were crafted. Check out the list below. Clicking their titles shall transport you to their respective GoodReads pages.

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta: An own-voices Indian middle-grade fantasy novel that revolves around a young girl named Kiranmala. On the morning of her twelfth birthday, her parents mysteriously vanish and a rakkhosh demon slams into her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. She realises that her parents may have been telling the truth when they told her she was an Indian princess from a different dimension. When two princes arrive to rescue her, Kiran finds herself swept into a magical interdimensional adventure, where she must solve riddles and battle demons in order to rescue her parents and save the world. This is the first book in a series called Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond.

This book has been on my overall TBR for a long time and after reading through The Daevabad Trilogy, I am craving more fantasy that is near-and-dear to my cultural roots, no matter what audiences they are for. The Serpent’s Secret seemed like a fabulous place to begin!

The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao: An own-voices Chinese middle-grade fantasy adventure about twelve-year-old Faryn Liu, who is the member of the Jade Society. Faryn dreams of honouring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior, but the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex, forcing them to train in secret. One day while running an errand, Faryn tumbles into a battle with a demon—and defeats it. If she can prove her worth and find an island with immortals before the Lunar New Year, Faryn may have a chance at becoming the powerful warrior she’s always dreamt of being. This is the first book in a series called The Dragon Warrior.

I really like stories about people who are shunned or exiled and must find a way back to whatever community(ies) that exiled them, only to discover how fantastic they are without the blessing of said community(ies). That is one of the biggest appeals about The Dragon Warrior for me. Plus, I think it’s awesome that the story takes place in San Francisco, which is fairly close to where I live! Lastly, the author is such a cool human and I really want to support her work.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: An own-voices Chinese adult epic historical fantasy title that everyone on every social media platform that I engage with cannot seem to stop loving. The hype surrounding this is one of the main reasons that I have hesitated in picking it up. However, given how much I have been craving incredible fantasy narratives as of late, I decided to add it to my November stack. I know the third instalment in the series is releasing either later this month or in December, so if I end up loving it, I shan’t have to wait long to wrap it up (I also own the second novel, The Dragon Republic).

I did not include a synopsis here as I prefer to go into this book with as little information as possible. But if you would like to check it out, please click its title to visit the GoodReads page.

I shall keep my fingers crossed that this works out well! How about you? Do you find sticking to planned reading lists to be challenging? Do you have any tricks or tips that help you stay dedicated?

Until next time, happy reading.

5 Mini Book Reviews for Must-Read #OwnVoices Picture Books!

Recently, while combatting a terrible reading slump, I felt a sudden urge to read picture books. My mind wanted to indulge in something short yet wholesome and heart-warming. After scrounging through my library’s digital offerings, I uncovered five diverse, own-voices titles that sounded perfect for the mood that I unexpectedly found myself in. Each of them were a marvellously yet oft times bittersweet experience and I wanted to share some brief reviews for these reads with you today.

Mango Moon by Diane De Anda and Sue Cornelison (illustrator): An own-voices Latinx story about a family who must grieve and come to terms with an uncertain future after their father and husband is taken away, pending deportation. As they adapt to finding a new home, his absence at sports games and birthday celebrations, they seek to fill their newfound emptiness with precious memories of the man they miss dearly.

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.

The tale is expressed through gorgeous artwork. The colours are bright yet soft with details that capture the expressions of the pain and longing that these kids are feeling in a manner that shall be very accessible to any and all kids who will pick this book up. It’s perfect for adults because it highlights the truth of today’s cruel political chaos, while also being vital for children by depicting the importance of family and the small memories that families create together. Highly recommended.

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (illustrator): An own-voices Chinese re-telling of the Goldilocks story about a little girl named Goldy Luck who has a tendency to get into trouble when she least expects to, and how she learns and grows from those moments of mischief.

This is my favourite rendition of the Goldilocks story yet! It is delightfully heart-warming and fun, with a reimagining that is gloriously and unapologetically Chinese. The cultural inclusion that is expressed via the panda bears, the turnip cakes, and the atmosphere of celebrating the Chinese New Year truly make this book a splendid addition to any library!

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.  The book also includes a recipe for turnip cakes at the end, along with an author’s note that briefly describes the Chinese New Year. Highly recommended for all kids to check out as it opens up the beauty of diverse cultures in such a lovely manner.

The Boy and the Bindi by Vivek Shraya and Rajni Perera (illustrator): An own-voices Indian, own-voices LGBTQIA+ story about a young child who becomes fascinated with his Ammi’s bindi—the red dot commonly adorned by Hindu women to indicate the point of creation’s beginning—and wishes that he had one of his very own! Rather than scolding her son, she happily agrees to it and uses the opportunity to enlighten him about its cultural significance.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing acceptance of Queer kids in highly conservative communities, such as the South Asian community. 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.

The artwork consists of focused drawings of the mother and bindi upon plain, white backgrounds that make the essence of the tale pop off the pages magnificently, signifying that this is a story about a boy who finds himself in the beauty of his culture.

I love that the characters are stunning, unapologetically brown individuals being joyous amid familial camaraderie. I feel this is something that we don’t get to witness nearly enough in literature, especially children’s works. Highly recommended to all readers, especially South Asian kids and families; witness the serenity of encouraging a child’s discovery of themselves and the elation that blossoms because of it.

Mooncakes by Loretta Seto and Renné Benoit (illustrator): An own-voices Chinese book about a young girl who is preparing to celebrate the Moon Festival with her parents. As they make mooncakes and sit outside waiting for the moon to rise, she listens to the stories about certain individuals that found their way to the moon.

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.

The themes of being humble and honest are depicted via the three stories that her parents share with her about individuals—who via the grace of the Jade Emperor and their own efforts—that ended up taking residence on the moon and significantly contribute to the beauty of the world in one form or another. The messages seem simple, yet they are deep and rather meaningful and perfect for youngsters to better understand compassion in the world around them. Highly recommend for readers of all ages, especially those interested in Chinese folktales.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and Qin Leng (illustrator): An own-voices Japanese tale about a young violinist named Hana who decides to enter a competition. While her brothers give her a bad time about her playing, Hana reminisces about her Ojiichan (her grandfather) and the many memories she has of him surrounding her childhood with beautiful memories.

Out of all five of these 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.

Hana is precocious child with a lively imagination that is filled to the brim with sweet memories of her Ojiichan playing the violin for her and her family, all of which end up formulating the essence of her performance at the competition. It is an homage to a man that filled her heart with so much love and joy. This was indescribably personal for me because it reminded me of my Bhaiya (brother) who did the very same thing for me but with a pianoforte rather than a violin. It was so touching and inspiring that I was wholeheartedly moved to tears.

The illustrations are all so wonderful too, with details that brought every ounce of Hana’s memories and creativity to life in an upbeat and almost cinematic manner. The passion that Hana has for the violin, as well as the respect for its association to her beloved grandfather, pours off the pages and embraces the reader in a blanket of amenity that makes you want to immediately re-read the story again after finishing it. Highly recommended to any readers that are searching for a bit of motivation and uplifting spirit, as well as an impeccable sense of familial companionship.

Picture books are fabulous and should not be restricted to children’s reading pleasures. There are so many awe-inspiring narratives out there within the medium that is just as vital to adults (more so in many ways) as they are to growing brains and hearts, and I highly recommend that fellow bibliophiles take a chance at indulging in them, particularly diverse, own-voices ones!

NaNoWriMo Diaries #1: First Time Participating + Writing Goals

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has arrived! During the month of November, thousands upon thousands of people come together to motivate and support one another  as they work on the rather uncomplicated yet somewhat daunting task of writing a 50,000-word novel in the span of thirty days. NaNoWriMo is also a non-profit organisation that started this event as a means for raising awareness and support for programmes that nurture fluency, literacy, and education. It is a fantastic  way to support important causes while honing one’s skills in the pursuit of professional authorship. (Please visit their website here for more information.)

My aspiration for becoming a published author has been a lifelong one and, honestly speaking, my insecurities and inadequacy issues in terms of “being good enough” within the industry tend to prevent me from giving my one-hundred-and-fifty percent to this immensely vital goal. With that being said, I do not want to remain captive to my own doubts and fears, which is why I decided to join the NaNoWriMo event this year.

At the end of 2019, I began researching and outlining a story that has been keeping residence in my mind for the better part of five years. One of my friends, and someone whom I admire greatly, published her debut novel last year and it was the motivation that I needed to finally start working on this project vehemently. Then in February, my health took a devastating turn for the worse, followed by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March—all of the chaos that stemmed henceforth from these events caused my ability to focus on that work-in-progress (WIP) to utterly dissipate. This  left me feeling horribly discouraged and hopeless.

Recently, I received a fresh new lease on life, as the cliché goes, and it really forced me into a corner of self-contemplation. I no longer wanted to be a victim to my fears and insecurities because they prevented me from living a life that could have brought me a marvellous amount of joy, or at the very least, gratification for pursuing passions that set my heart and soul on fire, regardless of whether they succeeded or not. By joining NaNoWriMo this year, I am taking a big first step in confronting the negativity that has weighed me down for the better part of seven months.

As I sat down to outline a writing schedule for the month, I thought it would be fun to keep a diary of sorts that tracks my progress, as well as the positives and negatives, of trying to write an entire book within a span of four to five weeks. Since I know there are other writers out there who may be feeling as intimidated as I have by NaNoWriMo—this is why I have not joined any previous events—I wanted to share that diary here on my blog, The Djinn Reader. Maybe my experiences can be inspiring to other folx that are looking to start crafting a book of their very own, whether they do it via a community-based event like this one or decide to go at it in a more gradual and solo manner.

A few things you can expect from these diary entries is full and complete honesty with how I am actually doing on meeting (or falling behind on) my writing goals, dealing with creative ruts or blocks, some of my processes with crafting characters or scenes, etc., and other general issues that tend to arise when tackling a project of this calibre. I shall also be open to answering any questions that may arise during this event if I am able to do so.

With that out of the way, here are my main eight goals for NaNoWriMo this year as I begin work on an adult fantasy novel:

  • Write for at least 2-hours every day with short breaks every half-hour
  • Write approximately 11,000 words per week (7-day period), or 1,666 words per day
  • Experiment with different outlining methods, even if they are completely outside of your comfort zone
  • Finish the novel or finish most of it (this is in case if the story surpasses 50,000 words) by midnight on November 30th.
  • Do not erase what has been written until the first proofreading session, once the novel is completed
  • Do not get discouraged by comparing your progress/successes to others!
  • Stay hydrated
  • Have fun

This list is a good combination of both my strengths and weaknesses. For example, it is fairly easy for me to write for multiple hours per day with a finished word count that supersedes one to two thousand words. However, I am terrible with taking creative risks during my outlining process due to my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), even if I feel like those risks would be greatly beneficial to structuring the current project or manuscript that I am working on. I am also quite terrible at not comparing myself to others, which is something that I think everyone struggles with to various degrees, and staying hydrated.

As I mentioned above, my book is an adult fantasy novel that is inspired heavily by both my Indian and iTaukei (native Fijian) ethnicities and cultures, particularly where world-building is concerned, and features a cast of LGBTQIA+ characters, including a Nonbinary main character (#OwnVoices), a pansexual main character, and a lesbian main character.

While I am feeling a bit anxious and quite nervous about the prospect of trying to write an entire novel during a single month, I am also feeling wonderfully excited and optimistic. Even if I am not able to complete the manuscript, I feel as though this will become a supremely educational lesson for me in terms of content creating, and I am looking forward to those insights with great joy.

Please feel free to add me on NaNoWriMo if you would like. I may not update my progress every single day, but I will try to do it at least a few times throughout the week. [Shāfiya’s NaNoWriMo Profile] For other writing updates, feel free to visit my Twitter page.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you partaken in previous years? How do you feel about this writing event?

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

“Normality was contagious, and exposure to the infection was necessary to keep up with it”.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata is an #OwnVoices Japanese fiction novel by acclaimed author of Convenience Store Woman. The story follows a young lady named Natsuki who as a child was an outcast in the eyes of her parents and sister, and whose only friend was a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut. Piyyut explained to her that he was a visitor from a far away planet named Popinpobopia on a very special quest to help Natsuki save Earth. Shortly afterwards, Natsuki begins to ponder as to whether she could be an alien as well and thus does not belong with the family that she cannot find common ground with, musings that become a bit more clearer (and stranger) once Natsuki matures into a grown woman.

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.

Natsuki is a kid who is faced with an intensely lonely and alienating childhood that is laced with both verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. When she makes any attempt at seeking help for what is happening to her, she is met with disbelief and more ostracization. Her method of coping involves disconnecting from everything that is happening, causing her to become further disenfranchised from “fitting in” with people around her; an aspect that follows her well into adulthood.

The first half of the novel is a slow-burn build-up of the events that will work to formulate the mind-blowing climax to arrive in the second-half, and it is done in a marvellously meticulous yet chilling manner. The compiling sense of tension that begins to envelope the reader with each new atrocious encounter or experience that Natsuki undergoes creates an almost skin-crawling sensation. It is penetratively disturbing yet phenomenally cerebral, so much so that when everything implodes later on, the reader is left feeling utterly stunned.

My favourite element of the novel, aside from the insidiously psychological examination of how the psyche develops to protect against trauma, is the precise probe into the outrageous notion of normalcy.  Individuals who reside within a perfect cookie-cutter existence are rarely able to view the many fallacies of the world, particularly if they are constantly unaffected by them. However, the outsiders and the oddballs who reside on the outskirts of this perception of perfectness—usually individuals that are neurodivergent or disabled—are the ones who truly comprehend just how awful a place the world can be; an infection to mental and emotional stability. When the grave catastrophes created by constructs such as capitalism or exploitation go unquestioned or uncontested, then the worst of consequences can occur, as depicted by the last one-third to one-fourth of the novel.

Earthlings is not for the feint-of-heart. There are some severe scenes of violence, brusque self-deprecating dialogue, on-the-page sexual molestation and rape, sexual exploitation of a child, many scenes of familial psychological and physical abuse, intense representations of anxiety and depression, social and sex-related awkwardness, and suicidal ideation, and the grotesque ways that normal able-minded and able-bodied folx perceive neurodivergent and disabled individuals. So, if you do find yourself intrigued by Earthlings, I recommend that you proceed cautiously. Even with the heavy subject matter and content, Earthlings is one brilliant novel, cementing Sayaka Murata as an up-and-rising author who has so much to offer the literary world.

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

Top 5 Most-Anticipated Book Releases for October 2020

One of the best parts of a brand-new month is being able to visit the New Releases shelves of my local bookstores (virtually during this time of pandemic proportions) and gazing upon the latest book releases! Not only does my To-Be-Read list mutate like a virus-ridden plant (I am looking at you Plant 42), but it also helps me to keep an eye on the diverse nature of those releases. Being able to discover fabulous new POC/BIPOC/QPOC authors or freshly minted stories from old-time beloveds helps me to feel inspired and hopeful about diverse voices and representations in publishing and literature. While we still have quite a long ways to go in the realm of equality within the industry, I still love to celebrate the little victories along the way.

For October, there are five books specifically that I have been eagerly anticipating for the better part of three to four months, and I was blessed with the opportunity to read half of my most-anticipated list via ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies). These titles are truly brilliant works of creativity and human emotion, and I cannot wait to share my reviews of these fantastic upcoming releases with you all.

Until those reviews go live, here is the list of top five October book releases that you all should definitely keep an eye out for, whether at your local bookshops or libraries! At the very least, please consider adding them to your own TBRs if you have not done so yet. You can visit their respective GoodReads pages by clicking on the titles.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata: This is an #OwnVoices Japanese literature novel by the acclaimed author of Convenience Store Woman and follows a young woman named Natsuki who as a child was an outcast in the eyes of her parents and sister, and whose only friend was a plush toy hedgehog named Piyyut. Piyyut explained to her that he has come from the planet Popinpobopia on a special quest to help her save the Earth. Natsuki begins to wonder if she is also an alien and thus does not fit in with her family as such, ponderings that become a bit clearer once Natsuki matures into a grown woman.

Reading this book was an incredible ride. It is such a deeply psychological experience and explores a plethora of themes that concentrate on the impacts of childhood abuse and exploitation, and the various ways that people cope with their traumas and phobias. My full spoiler-free review shall go up later this week, however, if you are an avid reader of complex narratives and the beauty of  slow-burn Japanese fiction, then I highly recommend that you check out Earthlings, more so if you enjoyed the author’s previous work. The book released on October 6th.

This is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi: This young adult LGBTQIA+ contemporary via the author of Tell Me How You Really Feel, follows a trio of young ladies who put their heads, hearts, and eccentricities together to save their local bookstore and place of employment, the Wild Nights Bookstore from closing shop permanently.

This amazing story has three fierce young women, each from a different diverse background and each with a fun and unique persona that you cannot help but adore. If that were not enough to warrant glee, toss in some book-saving theatrics and a spot of sweet romance for that extra kick of pleasure. My full spoiler-free review for this title shall go live next week. In the meantime, if you are a fan of female-centric stories full of friendship and empowerment, then I highly recommend this YA contemporary to you! The book releases on October 13th.

Come On In: 15 Stories About Immigration & Finding Home edited by Adi Alsaid: This anthology of young adult stories all centre on the diverse nature of immigrant experiences, including the heartbreak of leaving behind family for a fresh start in a strange new land, trying to acclimate with clashing cultures that come with second and third generation identities, returning to a native land after a long period of time, and much more. Each story shall incite laughter, warmth, heartbreak, and the triumphs that come with being an immigrant

I had the honour of reading and reviewing this title a couple of weeks ago and I can say with one-hundred-percent certainty that it is the best young adult anthology that I have read to date. The cultural richness of each story and the multi-dimensional nature of each separate experience and identity is absolutely astounding. Fans of multi-cultural literature and readers looking to better understand the vastness of the immigrant experiences should not miss this collection! A few of the contributing authors include Nafiza Azad (The Candle and the Flame), Maurene Goo (The Way You Make Me Feel), Zoraida Córdova (Incendiary), and Sona Charaipotra (Symptoms of a Heartbreak). My full spoiler-free review can be found on my sibling blog, BiblioNyan. The book hits shelves on October 13th.

To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu: This #OwnVoices Chinese science-fiction short story collection by the brilliant author of The Three-Body Problem centres on the various ways technology helps to make and/or break the world and universe from the use of physics to prevent alien invasions to the very collapse of the universe itself. It implements visionary allegories for the intense era of change during China from 1999 to 2017 from one of the most talented writers of the modern era.

As an avid aficionado of science-fiction, Cixin Liu has become somewhat of a celebrity icon for me in terms of scientific creativity and multi-faceted storytelling with relation to cultural and political exposition. While I tend to struggle with reading short stories, every time I pick up a piece by Cixin Liu, I am enthralled from start to finish. If you are a reader of hard science-fiction, especially in translation, then this collection should not be missed. The book shall hit shelves on October 20th.

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee: An #OwnVoices Korean, #OwnVoices LGBTQIA+ adult fantasy 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.

As a Nonbinary person, I have such a deep and unrelenting appreciation for Yoon Ha Lee’s works. Being able to see Nonbinary characters who are brilliant and fierce and full of layers that make them both fallible yet relatable make my heart warm and excited. Couple that representation with fantasy works of epic proportions, then I have something tantalising and irresistible on my plate.  Phoenix Extravagant is an incredible novel full of contemplative musings on imperialism, the spirituality and nationalisation of art, as well as a supremely adorable dragon you cannot help but fawn over. If you are a fan of Asian literature, specifically Asian-inspired fantasy stories, then Phoenix Extravagant is definitely the book for you. My full spoiler-review shall go live in a couple of weeks. The book shall release on October 20th.

Those are my top five most-anticipated book releases for October and I honestly cannot wait to share reviews for them with you all over the next few weeks. If you are able to, please do visit the GoodReads pages and consider pre-ordering these titles or requesting them and/or placing them on hold at your local libraries. Let’s all uplift diverse voices together!

Until next time, happy reading to you.

Seven by Farzana Doctor

Seven by Farzana Doctor is an #OwnVoices Indian fiction literature novel about a woman named Sharifa who travels to India with her husband with the hopes of learning more about her great-great-grandfather who was an immensely successful businessman and a philanthropist. During her research, however, instead of discovering a tale of rags-to-riches, Sharifa learns that her grandfather had four wives, all of whom had been omitted from the family’s lore. As she becomes more and more engrossed in the enigma surrounding these women, Sharifa also becomes entangled in a powerful familial debate regarding khatna—an age-old ritual of female genital cutting, one that shall force her to face her own reality and choose a side.

One of the most intriguing characteristics about Seven is the subject matter of female genital cutting (FGC) as it is one that I have never seen discussed in literature before. My own personal knowledge of this ritual is extremely limited and for all intents and purposes, it has always been a topic that has existed within my own cultural circles, but one that is never openly discussed. While I was curious to learn more about FGC, I was wary of the sensitivity with which it would be broached in the book. Ms Doctor not only discusses this vital issue with accessibility and evocativeness, she also does so with great care and consideration, which is what truly makes Seven such an incredible title.

The writing style is simple and rather straight-forward, making it easy to get utterly consumed within the pages, more so when the emotions surrounding the subject matter are portrayed with authenticity and thoughtfulness. Each side of the debate is given attention and respect, and provides an insightful, educative, and captivating reading experience. The tone while discussing the roots of these rituals and why some family members still believe in the practise is never spiteful or accusatory, which is an incredibly challenging feat given the nature of this matter. Her exposition is careful and considerate from beginning to end, even when it leans a bit more towards one side versus the other.

The superb use of emotions to illustrate the tensions within Sharifa’s family as they discuss this practise draws the reader further into the complexities of olden traditional Indian culture that most would consider to be highly outdated. There are layers of complexities that go beyond simple right and wrong that create a plethora of reactions and responses as the story unfolds, making the book practically impossible to put down.

The focus on FGC plays parallel to some of the other issues that Sharifa is battling in Seven and that helps to formulate an even more elaborate narrative filled with multi-dimensional themes on gender roles (particularly where sex is concerned), self-acceptance, the intricacies of cultural identity, marriage, female relationships, and much more. Sharifa’s husband, Murtuza, was a pleasant surprise whilst reading. He was a compassionate and understanding man who always valued his wife’s thoughts and feelings, highlighting an equity in their marriage that is rarely depicted in books showcasing more culturally inflexible gender-centric functions in South Asian communities, especially with respect to her inner turmoil regarding her sexuality and mental fortitude.

While Seven is not an easy book to read, it is vastly important, and I highly recommend it to readers that are searching for a unique story with fallibly relatable characters. With writing that is supported via excellent research, a respectful approach to an intensely delicate subject matter, a sensitive exhibition of sex and romance amid rigid Indian traditions and gender roles, and beautifully sincere use of emotions, there is very little within these pages that shall disappoint.

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

The Best Books of 2020 Part 1 – January to June

This year has been a strange reading year for me. I have either been finding excellent books one right after another or ending up on the receiving end of a streak of one-star disappointments. Most of this can be accredited to stress and discomfort with processing through the constant flow of uncertainty that 2020 has been igniting and reigniting time and time again. The rest can be blamed on my rather finicky reading moods that seem to change with the quick shift of the wind.

If there is anything particularly positive about my reading habits for 2020 thus far, it would have to be how consistently I have been engaging with diverse own-voices books, as well as how wonderfully I have been staying loyal to my goal of reading more nonfiction titles this year.

Since the midway point has come and almost gone, I wanted to share my favourite books from the year with you. Each one of these has either brought me a great sense of joy or insight or was just a marvellous feat of creativity and I wanted to bring more attention and adoration their way. Normally, I like to do a humongous wrap-up of the best books across twelve months during the final week of December, however, this year I wanted to break them into two segments so that the lists are a bit less daunting and exhaustive. It also works as an experiment to see which way jams better with my overall comfort zone.  

For each listed book, I have included the genre, links to their GoodReads pages via the title, and any relative reviews that I may have written for it. Please note that if there is a review, some of them may be on my sibling blog, BiblioNyan.


When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur: An own-voices Canadian-Punjabi poetry collection with wonderful prose and poems that discuss the diasporic experience, battling sexism and racism within own cultural communities, being fetishized and sexualised by White people and how that impacts self-identity, and so much more. The collection really resonated with me as a brown-skinned South Asian who has (and continues to) deal with all these things to one degree or another in my life. The portions that hit the closest to my heart were the writings that explored what being Othered by one’s own cultural community feels like because one does not fit the mould of how they perceive that individual should be as a South Asian gender-specific person. I highly recommend this to readers who enjoy poetry, specifically intersectional-focused work.


Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: This collection of short stories written by the superbly brilliant Roxane Gay is indescribably powerfully. Originally read in celebration of Black History Month, the anthology is filled with stories about womxn who take back their own narrative, oft times by partaking in difficult living situations in order to survive, while also knocking back their oppressors and abusers (both figuratively and literally) to stand tall and proud, with a sprinkle of various experiences in between the two extremes. It exemplifies the diversity of womxn, indicating that womxn’s experiences do not equate to a monolithic gender identity. Recommended for readers of short stories and nonfiction intersectional feminist essays.


Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire: An adult portal fantasy novel that is the fifth instalment in the Wayward Children series. It is by far my favourite volume thus far as it has incredible representation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is a condition that I have. My personal experience with OCD pertains to the need to stay extremely clean and hygienic at all times. If I am unable to do so, then I quite literally feel like I shall lose my ability to function normally. An example of how I cope is how I wear gloves whenever I leave my house, similarly to the main character of this specific title. The novel portrays the difficulties of living with extreme OCD in an accurate manner without being hurtful or disrespectful, which I wholeheartedly respected and appreciated. For some, this level of OCD may appear to be unrealistic, however, as an individual who lives quite comparably to the character in the novel, I can assure you that it is very real and authentic. Additionally, the story deals with abusive relationships and how validating abusers is the only way to survive in some situations, which was also written with sincerity. I recommend this to readers of fantasy, especially portal fantasies, who appreciate accurate mental health/illness representations.


The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty: An own-voices Islamic epic fantasy book, and the first instalment in The Daevabad Trilogy, this title is an exceptional example of methodically crafted, cultural-rich, politically charged fantasy storytelling at its absolute finest. The depiction of morally grey characters and how vast the shades of faith can be, even within a particular creed, were remarkably written. The world-building and all-encompassing atmospheric exhibition of the setting of Daevabad is breathtaking in both scope and execution. One of the finest first instalments in a series that I have ever read. I highly recommend this to readers of adult fantasy who have a keen interest in political intrigue, amazing action, and multi-dimensional characters. My full spoiler-free review.


The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty: The sequel to the above title, this novel takes everything that The City of Brass did swellingly and contributes to the storyline and character plights by focusing on specialised character development and growth, tightening the suspense as it relates to the political machinations, and elaborating on complex themes of individuality, subjugation, abuse, and much more. By far the best sequel novel in a series that I have ever read. My full spoiler-free review.


Japanese Fashion Cultures: Dress & Gender in Contemporary Japan by Masafumi Monden: This is an own-voices Japanese nonfiction book that examines fashion trends in Japan as it specifically relates to mxn’s fashion. Some of the topics of interest include, but are not limited to, fashion as a form of gender identity and surpassing the binary, the evolution of mxn’s interest in fashion styles in Japan, and the projected future of the fashion industry as it relates to masculine identities. It is marvellously written, with in-depth research and a plenitude of information, as well as additional resources for further reading. The book manages to avoid being intensely dense, which was a welcome reprieve considering the subject matter. Highly recommended for readers who have an interest in multi-cultural fashion industries and surveys of gender identity in Japan.


Kawaii: Japan’s Culture of Cute by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson: Another own-voices Japanese nonfiction novel, this one is a brightly coloured, glossy-paged reference guide to Kawaii culture in Japan. The book offers in-depth yet accessibly succinct chunks of the origins of kawaii culture, its historical influences and evolution, a list of the major artistic creators and influencers of the concept of cute within Japanese society, and how it became a world-wide phenomenon. There are interviews with manga creators as well as specialists and historians within the field that make this book highly informative and vastly fascinating. The beautiful design and presentation along with the layman’s vernacular make the title a must read for all Japanophiles, especially for ones interested in modern kawaii culture (i.e.: anime, Lolita fashion, maid cafés, etc.).

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The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar:  An own-voices Islamic, own-voices Syrian American story about a girl named Nour who moves back to Syria with her mum and sisters shortly after her father’s passing. Before she has the time to fully acclimate to her new surroundings, her town is bombed, forcing her family to flee across numerous borders in order to fight for their very existence. It is magnificently compelling and emotionally riveting. The story is not an easy one to digest as it portrays the harsh reality of loss in multiple layers and dynamics, with the loss of home, loss of loved ones, loss of individuality, and even loss of faith, but that is also what makes it one of the most important books out there. My full spoiler-free review.


Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto: An own-voices Japanese fiction novel that is considered to be a revolutionary work in modern Japanese literature, it follows a young woman who moves in with her grandmother’s friend upon the grandmother’s passing. Whilst living there, the young womxn harnesses the healing powers of cooking and friendship to grieve and find a way to move forward amid life’s unpredictability. Even though the novel has its sad moments, it is ultimately a story of inspiration and hope, making it perfect for anyone that needs a little of both in their lives. Highly recommended for folx that like to read contemporary literary fiction or are interested in Japanese literature but are not quite sure where to begin.

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Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender: An own-voices Caribbean, own-voices Queer story for middle-grade readers about a young girl that is faced with feelings of abandonment, and the people who lie to protect her. Callender’s prose and exploration of complex feelings with regard to the uncertainty that follows the loss of a parent, even at such a young age, is powerfully insightful and stunningly evocative. It showcases how children are not the only ones that have to grow up and oft times it is because of their sincere perspective on life that so many adults finally figure it out for themselves. Recommended to readers that like middle-grade books, books with Queer romances, and books that explore the more hurtful aspects and complexities of cultural-specific communities. A full review for this title shall be on the blog shortly.

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Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu:  An own-voices Sri Lankan and Tamil, own-voices Queer adult literature novel about a womxn named Lucky. She is a lesbian that married her gay friend from college so they could maintain their personal Queer dating excursions safely hidden from the judgemental gazes of their conservative Tamil parents. However, when Lucky is invited home to attend her childhood friend’s wedding, emotions start to run high as she questions what she wants from her life and future. This was such an excellent novel with raw, unfiltered emotion about being in an abusive relationship with a closeted individual, and how the fears and insecurities of such a person can create an extremely toxic relationship. It also examines the challenges of coming to terms with one’s identity amid strict, traditional familial environments and oppressively rigid gender-enforced rituals. It is not an easy book to read, but it is phenomenal, nonetheless. Highly recommended for readers searching for an authentic Queer literary novel centring on Sri Lankan experiences and representation. A full review for this title shall be up on the blog shortly.


This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell: This own-voices Black nonfiction book takes a look at systemic racism and oppression of BIPOC and POC through the pages of history so that we may understand what those two constructs entail, which better equips us to break them down. My favourite part of this collection is how it tackles each element with grace, centring on positive discourse. There are also activities at the end of each main section so that we can truly examine White supremacy and privilege around us in our daily interactions and environments, which further emphasises prejudice and discrimination against all BIPOC and POC individuals. I recommend this to folx interested in learning about and understanding the roots of systemic racism and those who truly wish to unravel the very pillars that maintain the status quo of oppression of marginalised peoples.

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Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali: This own-voices Islamic young adult contemporary romance book is the best book I have read in all of 2020 so far. It follows two teenagers who meet by happenstance and formulate a friendship during some of the most difficult tribulations of their life thus far. It is an immensely beautiful book about the joys of faith and the comforts of learning to be oneself, unapologetically so. It is feminist, romantic, fierce, and so wonderfully full of wisdom. Highly recommended to readers that enjoy sincere, wholesome romances, intersectional feminism, and young adult narratives. A full review for this book shall be up shortly.

That does it for my bi-annual round-up of the best reading experiences that I have had in 2020. I am eager and excited for what the next six months shall bring my way. Until next time, happy reading to you!

May’s & June’s Monthly E-Book Haul of Diverse Books by Authors of Colour

With the sudden arrival of quarantine, I have become reunited with my Kindle app on my iPad so that I may read e-books. With libraries and bookstores being shut down, the safest and oft times cheapest means of acquiring diverse titles has been via daily deals for digital novels. Between that and Amazon’s  free trial of Kindle Unlimited (a subscriber can read an unlimited amount of e-books for $9.99 per month, with ten checkouts at a time and no expiration date), my appreciation for cybernated reading has deepened tenfold.

May and June (thus far) have proved to be quite invaluable with regard to diverse books authored by writers of colour. With titles being offered for lightning-timed prices of zero dollars to approximately a couple bucks here and there, so many brilliant novels from my TBR (to-be-read) list, across subgenres of young adult to adult and historical fiction to fantasy, have fallen conveniently into my Kindle library. As such, I now have a decent collection of things to read and review on The Djinn Reader for the remainder of 2020.  

Please check out my latest digital haul down below. Respective links to GoodReads pages shall be linked after the synopses of each title, along with the sale price that I acquired the books for.


The Rise of Kiyoshi by F.C. Yee: A young adult fantasy novel that is the first instalment in a prequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender. The story delves into the story of Kyoshi, the Earth Kingdom–born Avatar. The longest-living Avatar in this beloved world’s history, Kyoshi established the brave and respected Kyoshi Warriors, but also founded the secretive Dai Li, which led to the corruption, decline, and fall of her own nation. GoodReads. $2.99

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The Golden Hairpin by Qinghan Cece: This #OwnVoices historical mystery is about an investigative prodigy named Huang Zixia. At thirteen, she proves herself worthy as an investigator by aiding her father in solving confounding crimes. When she turns seventeen, she ends up going on the run after being accused of murdering her family to escape an arranged marriage. Driven by a single pursuit, she uses her skills to unmask the real killer so she may clear her name once and for all. However, in order to make that happen, Huang shall have to make a deal with the Prince of Kui while bargaining her freedom and life in order to save them both. GoodReads. $0.99

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The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo: An #OwnVoices Korean Contemporary novel about a teenager named Clara Shin who lives for pranks. However, when she takes a joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck with her uptight classmate, Rose Carver. What Clara expects to be an utter disaster turns into a summer of self-discovery with new friendships and a fresh romance. GoodReads. $2.99


The Lost Vintage: A Novel by Ann Mah:  A fiction literature story about a woman named Kate who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy, where she discovers a lost diary and an unknown relative that shall unveil a family secret held closely since the Second World War. As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war?  GoodReads. $3.99

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The Perfect Nanny: A Novel by Leila Slimani: This is an #OwnVoices Franco-Moroccan book about a woman named Myriam. When she decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, her and her husband look for the perfect nanny. They find Louise, who seems to be an utter dream come true. She is quiet, polite, and devoted. She sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, and stays late without complaints. But as the nanny and the couple become more co-dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicion start stirring, threatening to shatter the idyllic tableau crafted. GoodReads. $2.99

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Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak: An #OwnVoices Turkish-Islamic adult fiction story set over an evening in contemporary Istanbul, following Peri, a married and wealthy Turkish woman. On her way to a seaside mansion, a beggar snatches her handbag. While she wrestles to retrieve it, a photograph falls to the ground—an old polaroid of three young women and their university professor. A relic from the past and a love of Peri’s that she had tried desperately to forget. GoodReads. $1.99


Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim: An #OwnVoices Chinese young adult fantasy story that is a sweeping tale about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor. To do so, she shall have to embark on an epic journey to sew three magic dresses from the sun, the moon, and the stars. Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise. GoodReads. $2.99

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Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang: This historical occult fiction book takes place in New York City in 1899 and follows Tillie Pembrooke. She’s a ravenous reader and a researcher that is determined to unravel the mystery of her sister’s death. Will Tillie be able to look past the haze of her opium addiction and the hysteria caused by the murder in order to catch the culprit behind her sister’s demise? GoodReads. $1.99

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A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian: An #OwnVoices South Asian novel that revolves around a tight-knit community known as Heaven—a ramshackle slum hidden between luxury high-rises in Bangalore, India—five girls on the cusp of womanhood forge an unbreakable bond. Muslim, Christian, and Hindu; Queer and straight; they are full of life, and they love and accept one another unconditionally. Whatever they have, they share. These marginalised women are determined to transcend their surroundings. When the local government threatens to demolish their homes in order to build a shopping mall, the girls and their mothers refuse to be erased. Together they wage war on the bulldozers sent to bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that wishes that families like them would remain hidden forever. GoodReads. $1.99

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No More Heroes by Michelle Kan: This urban fantasy title. The peaceful nights are kept under the clandestine and watchful eye of young, gifted Vigilantes around the world. But a sudden rash of Vigilante deaths foreshadows the arrival of a new and unfamiliar enemy—one whose motive is as unclear as their identity. Someone or something seems determined to disturb the peace, and they are going straight for the watchmen to do it. In a city where those who are gifted make up their own rules, who will step forward when the threat of a swift end is real and there stands so little to gain? GoodReads. $3.50

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The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: An #OwnVoices Vietnamese historical fiction title that has received sweeping acclaim across the globe, it is a multigenerational tale about the Trần family, set against the Việt Nam War. Trần Diệu Lan, born in the 1920s, is forced to flee with her six children during a period of severe land reform. Years later, her granddaughter comes of age as her family is headed down to Hồ Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that tore her country and family apart. GoodReads. $1.99


Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier: This is an #OwnVoices Pacific Islander (Guam), young adult historical fantasy novel. Eighteen years ago two princes of the island kingdom of St. John del Mar were kidnapped and murdered in a deadly plot by the rival kingdom of Mondrago. Everyone knows the story. Yet for Elias, Mercedes, and Ulises the aftermath of that terrible day is deeply personal. Elias grew up without his father, who was killed trying to protect the princes. Mercedes is half-Mondragan, leaving her to grow up in the shadow of del Mar’s hate. And Ulises, as the youngest and only remaining prince, inherited the throne meant for his older brothers. Now, the three friends just want to move on with their lives. But when two maps surface—each with the same hidden riddle—troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young princes? And why do the maps look like they were drawn by Elias’s father, whose body was never found?  To discover what really happened that fateful day, Elias, Mercedes, and Ulises must follow the clues hidden in the maps, uncovering long-held secrets and unimaginable betrayals along the way. GoodReads. $1.99

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The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh: This historical fantasy young adult story is loosely inspired by Arabian Nights. Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. GoodReads. $1.99

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Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore: This is a young adult historical fantasy novel. Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumours of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves. Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there is more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes. GoodReads. $1.99

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Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith: A young adult contemporary following Divya and Aaron. For them, it is all about the world of online gaming. While Divya trades her rising status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay rent, Aaron plays as a way to fuel his own dreams of becoming a game developer. After a chance online meeting, the pair decides to team up, but soon find themselves as targets for a group of internet trolls that begin launching a real-world doxxing campaign, threatening Aaron’s dream and Divya’s actual life. They think can drive her out of the game, but Divya’s whole world is on the line and she shall not go down without a fight. GoodReads. $1.99


Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera: An #OwnVoices Puerto Rican young adult contemporary title about Juliet Milagros Palante, who is a self-proclaimed closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx. Then Juliet comes out to her family the night before flying out to Portland, Oregon for an internship with her favourite feminist writer. When her coming out completely crashes, she is not sure her mother shall ever speak to her again. Hoping her internship shall give her the answers, Juliet realises that it will be much harder as Harlowe is White, not from the Bronx, and does not have the answers Juliet seeks. GoodReads. $1.99


Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron: A young adult fantasy about Arrah, who is the heir to two lines of powerful witchdoctors. She yearns for magic of her own yet fails at bone magic and calling upon her ancestors, as well as living up to her familial legacy. Under her mother’s disapproving eye, Arrah is afraid that she shall never be good enough. However, when the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, Arrah becomes desperate enough to turn to a forbidden and dangerous ritual. If she does not have her own magic, then her last resort is to buy it but trading away years of her own life. GoodReads. $1.99

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Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown: This book is a young adult novel that is heavily autobiographical novel and infused with magical realism about a girl named Echo Brown, who is a wizard from the East Side, where apartments are small, and parents suffer addictions to the white rocks. Yet there is magic everywhere. New portals begin to open when Echo transfers to the rich school on the West Side, and an insightful teacher becomes a pivotal mentor. Each day, Echo travels between two worlds, leaving her brothers, her friends, and a piece of herself behind on the East Side. There are dangers to leaving behind the place that made you. Echo soon realises there is pain flowing through everyone around her, and a black veil of depression threatens to undo everything she has worked for. GoodReads. $2.99

Asian Tor.com Original Short Stories
(GR Links in Titles)

The Weight of Memories by Cixin Liu: This is an #OwnVoices Chinese speculative fiction short story about memories that are yet to be born. $0.99

Come Drink With Me by Michelle Kan: A LGBTQIA+, #OwnVoices Chinese fairy tale that is about a dragon and a phoenix who make their living on Earth in an opera house. $0.99

Beyond the Dragon’s Gate by Yoon Ha Lee: This #OwnVoices Korean science-fiction short story is about former Academician, Anna Kim. Kim’s research into artificial intelligence cost her everything. Now, years later, the military has need of her expertise in order to prevent the destruction of their AI-powered fleet. $0.99

Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Neon Yang: An OwnVoices Singaporean science-fiction short story  about Xin, who is an ansible that uses her song magic to connect the originworld of the Imperial authority and its far-flung colonies—a role that is forced upon magically-gifted women “of a certain closeness.” When a dead body comes through her portal at a time of growing rebellion, Xin is drawn deep into a station-wide conspiracy along with Ouyang Suqing, one of the station’s mysterious, high-ranking starmages. $0.99