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

The Name of Red by Beena Khan

“The men watched with fascination as she opened a book and bowed her head in it. It looked like she was avoiding the crowd, and she appeared to want to blend in. It was impossible though since she’d already caught the attention of her audience by simply standing out in her red dress.”

Smashwords – The Name of Red – a book by Beena Khan

The Name of Red by Beena Khan is an #OwnVoices South Asian contemporary romance about a woman known only as Red who frequents a local bar every evening where she drinks vodka and reads books. One evening an admirer begins leaving specific titles for her upon her favoured reading spot with notes tucked into the pages. Feeling intrigued  by the gesture, she reciprocates the gift-giving with responses to said notes, thus starting a curious friendship. The novel is a debut release.

There were many attributes to The Name of Red that kept me steadfastly invested in the story between Red and her mystery admirer, such as the incredible descriptive writing and the slow-burn interaction between the two individuals, however the novel’s downfall was how unpolished and repetitive the prose became.   

The strongest trait of the novel is the captivating way that the author is able to create atmosphere. It was marvellously easy to picture Red getting situated at the bar and trying to focus on her book, but then becoming wholly uncomfortable when men would gawk at her inappropriately. Another scene was when she receives her first book from the admirer and the caution that she felt along with a twist of curiosity and excitement was delightful and charming. These fantastic descriptives extend to character interactions and dialogue sequences, where details of facial expressions and emotional reactions were shared, providing the reader with a superb recognition of how everyone was reacting to one another. This tends to be a characteristic that is quite commonly overlooked in contemporaries during verbal exchanges and its presence here was immensely appreciated. Additionally, it further cements the heat of the slow-burn development of feelings between Red and her eventual love-interest, Kabir.

The second facet that makes The Name of Red so fiercely engaging is the aforementioned romance. The rapport is built on two individuals who get to know each other gradually through shared (and separate) interests and a natural inquisitiveness about one another’s past encounters and relationships. It helps create a foundation of trust and mutual respect that is splendidly genuine and empathetic. The establishment of familiarity when building a romantic relationship or even a platonic kinship is a great  portrayal of how healthy bonds are forged and something that is vastly needed more of in adult romances.

The only true downfall of The Name of Red is the unpolished nature of the overall writing style. In the first half of the book, there are tons of repetitive words and phrases that make it feel tedious and overtly accentuated, mainly when describing Red’s beauty and the impact that it has on people around her. Rather than being allowed to gauge the reactions and formulate an opinion independently, it occasionally felt like the reader was supposed to respond with or think specific things, and that can become highly grating as one gets backed into a very precise corner. This is further reinforced if one is doing a single reading session for the book.

In later chapters, the quality of the writing takes a significant downturn as well. Rather than the carefully crafted sentences that is found in the first one-third of the narrative, the prose becomes riddled with many grammatical errors and inconsistent sentence structures that detracts from a smooth reading experience. I found myself stopping every so often to re-visit certain passages and paragraphs so that I could understand them fully, which further exasperated the repetitive element of the novel, but in a completely different manner. Suffice to say that the book needed a serious hand at editing as it reads like a second draft rather than a final product.

Writing titbits aside, there was one narrative element I also did not particularly care for and that was the amount of trauma that is introduced later on. Much of the trauma felt like contrived plot devices for shock value and it places a great amount of distance between the reader and the initial investment that hooks one into the plot and character plights. The suspension of disbelief utterly evaporates in the last one-third to one-fourth of the narrative, which then impacts the storytelling quality as a whole. However, I do feel the need to admit that I am not typically a reader of romance, so regulars of the genre may find these elements far more palatable than I did.

Overall, The Name of Red was a great debut. The author has immense potential to be a superb contributor to the genre. Having such a skill for crafting immersive settings and characters that are easy to root for, I am positive that she shall only get better with each new book she releases. I look forward to seeing what her next story shall entail. I recommend The Name of Red for people who fancy diverse slow-burn romances.

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya

“With every item she tossed into the washer’s gaping mouth, she dissected every sentence she could recall saying to Neela, analysing the implications of her words and how they might have been interpreted.”

The Subtweet: A Novel: Shraya, Vivek: 9781770415256: Amazon.com: Books

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya is an #OwnVoices South Asian-Canadian contemporary novel about two uniquely separate musicians that formulate a friendship after one of them performs a cover of the other’s song and it goes viral. Their quick-formulated bond becomes a contrast of insecurities and miscommunication as the fame compounds into toxic envy. Then one moment of weakness and a startling subtweet later, careers are devastated, and friendships become utterly shattered.

The Subtweet was a novel that had a vastly unique premise and sounded unlike anything that I have ever read before, which is why I felt drawn to it. While it was extremely fast-paced and easy to consume in one sitting, by its finale I felt that the novel’s listed premise was inherently far-removed from its painfully one-dimensional execution.

Social media is the ultimate platform for networking in the modern day, however, it is also one of the swiftest ways to create havoc and chaos, particularly those built upon the recesses of miscommunication and missing facts. While I understood that this element would play a part in the conflict of The Subtweet’s story, as it does concentrate on virtually crafted camaraderie, what I did not foresee was it becoming the underlying foundation for every single ounce of harmfulness taking place in the book. Ultimately, this is one of my least favourite tropes of all-time, and I felt it became a tenuous excuse for uncertain narrative direction, more so when coupled with the thin level of critique on the subject matter and a severe lack of atmosphere.

Rukmini and Neela, the two protagonists of The Subtweet, are both incredibly unlikeable people, and one of the main reasons for this is that they are women in their thirties who behave like they are sixteen with their petty drama and consistent mistrust of one another’s loyalty to their outrageously fast-formed friendship. A handful of virtual messages and some poorly constructed face-to-face interactions later, they were best of friends, seemingly out of thin air. Not only did this feel entirely unrealistic, it also reeked of doubtful plot subtexts. If we look at them as separate individuals, then there is no development here either to assist in making them endearing, or to garner the reader’s empathy, or even sympathy, in the midst of the chaos that occurs when the hurtful subtweet goes live; a feat that astounded me given the heavy load of dialogue that takes place in the novel. They both provide monologues about the various aspects that make them feel invalidated and insecure in the friendship yet do absolutely nothing to remedy their concerns or allay their fears. This creates a stonewall of storytelling stagnation that sticks around from start to finish.

When the conflict occurs, as I mentioned earlier, it is based entirely on miscommunication. Rather than have an adult conversation to sort out the motives or anger that ultimately led to Neela’s string of hurtful words, Rukmini completely disappears from the picture, never to be heard of again. This was a terrible way to engage with a topic that is supposed to be under a critical lens and create the basis for a thought-provoking examination on the noxiousness that comes with having an online presence.

The Subtweet had a grocery list of themes that it wanted to explore. Some of these include the implications of diversity when a person of colour caters to White audiences’ fetishized perception of cultural content, or when White masses seek to wash away the nuances that separate diverse content as unique creative cultural installations; the vindictive dynamics that are prominent in female-centric friendships; critiques on how privilege plays a part in fame accumulation, especially when it steals credit away from original creators; and lastly, the harmful ways that social media can be manipulated to build overnight stardom, whether that was the desired effect or not. With so many various subjects to shine a decisive lens on, and then some, the book never touches any of it with more than a handful of lines referencing these things. Writing out a single statement admonishing a person for appeasing the White masses in lieu of cultural authenticity is not the same thing as having a crucial examination on the topic! If anything, all it does is admit a desire to do so but illustrate a complete lack of initiative to follow through.

The Subtweet was a book that was ambitious in scope, yet floundered into obscurity with the delivery, leaving behind an immensely frustrating and one-dimensional 200-pages of storytelling torpidity. One of the most fascinating novels of 2020 quickly turned into the most disappointing reading experience I have had in years. As such, I cannot recommend The Subtweet with good faith.

The Prelude to Insurrection by J.C. Kang

“Jie’s heart leaped into her throat. How had she not heard someone approach on the nightingale floors, or even open the door? She spun around, hand reaching for her bladed hairpin.”

Book Cover

Prelude to Insurrection by J.C. Kang is short story introduction to the author’s expansive #OwnVoices Chinese adult fantasy series, Legends of Tivara. It follows a young orphan half-elf spy known as Jie as she tries to thwart a dangerous rebellion before it even begins.

My acquaintanceship with J.C. Kang’s multi-book universe occurred late one evening while I was browsing Amazon’s catalogue of fantasy Kindle e-books. Overwhelmed by the various connecting serials, I visited the author’s website where they shared a recommended reading order for all books in the Legends of Tivara series. Prelude to Insurrection was the suggested place to begin, so I bought a copy  for ninety-nine cents and read it immediately.

Being only seventy-four pages long, the short story is a decent way to whet one’s appetite for a historical Asian-inspired fantasy narrative. The first thing I noticed was how descriptive the settings were without being overwhelming or too wordy. The manner of which everything is described helped transport me to the location and situation that the main character Jie was embroiled in. I also appreciated the way the character’s facial expressions were portrayed as that is something that I feel is often trudged over in short stories, more so if there is already a familiarity with the cast members being depicted.

The action sequences were written very well and created an almost cinematic picture wheel in my mind as I read on. It was fast-paced and pleasantly flowing, emanating an escapism suffused adventure. This worked to add some intrigue to the hints of political strife that were woven into Jie’s mission. My hope is that the political upheaval that was teased shall be expounded upon in the full-length novels that follow because the small revelations that were shared were quite interesting.

If there’s any complaint to be had about the short story, it would be that it was, well, too short, which made it seem one-dimensional and bit pointless as a starting position for a whole series. There just was not enough information provided to completely hook me into wanting to learn more about the world of Tivara. However, if I had picked up Prelude to Insurrection after already having read a couple of the full-sized books, I am sure that I would feel differently about it.

All in all, Prelude to Insurrection was a pleasant little tale that fell a tiny bit too brief as a launching platform for a whole fantasy series. My goal is to return to it again in the future when I have more fleshed out knowledge about the political tension, the important characters, and the sort of person Jie is as both a spy and as a normal person outside of that role. I do recommend the author’s writings though. It’s rather superb and shows immense promise.

A Celebration of Muslim Authors via the 2020 Ramadan Readathon

Ramadan is my favourite month in the year. Ever since I was a child, it has been a source of immense comfort and hope. Throughout the month as I join my family and fellow Muslims in fasting, I am able to reflect on a myriad of things that help me find significant gratitude within my life, even if things feel quite hopeless and bleak. Through reflection, selflessness, and compassion, I am able to keep my mental and emotional health grounded, along with my faith in the belief that life shall not always be this dark and frightful.

A few years ago, a brilliant Muslim book blogger named Nadia, created an absolutely lovely readathon event to accompany this marvellous holiday season. It quickly became my favourite readathon and it is one that I always anticipate with great glee! Because the world is in a state of intense uncertainty, astonishing political strife, and massive fear, Ramadan and the Ramadan Readathon could not have arrived at a more pressing time; during a period where we all could use some hope and kindness, as well as a reminder that we are far stronger within ourselves than we may feel in the moment.

For people who might not be familiar with this Islamic holiday, Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During this holy month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, and focus on self-reflection and self-control, selflessness, charity, compassion, and togetherness. along with participating in our daily salat, or daily prayers. Ramadan is then superseded by the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which is a celebration marking the end of this month. It is typically celebrated for three days in most Muslim countries, however, growing up in the United States only allowed us to celebrate for one day. So, the celebratory aspect is something that usually varies from country-to-country.

The Ramadan Readathon, originally created in 2017 by Nadia from Headscarves and Hardbacks, is a month-long celebration of Muslim authors during this holiest time of year that is held in conjunction with Ramadan. If you would like to show your support of fellow Muslims, please join us in the readathon, or spread the word so others can learn more about this event and the brilliant Muslim authors that we want to uplift and commemorate. Visit the links down below for more information and recommendations on books by Muslim writers.

Every year, I tend to gather a decent stack of books authored by fellow Muslims and Muslimas and read from that pile. However, this year when I collected all of my Muslim books together, I discovered that I finally had enough for a whole bookshelf. In fact, I had to order a second bookshelf a few days ago due to the sheer size of this collection. My heart felt incredibly warm and comforted by this. When I was a child, I never dreamt that this kind of representation of my faith and cultures would exist. To see it not only exist, but to thrive so beautifully is like a dream come true.

A colourful shelf of #OwnVoices Muslim stories!

Now, since there is such a vast array of titles to choose from, I had the most difficult time picking out a mere handful. So, this year for the Ramadan Readathon, I created a TBR goblet (courtesy of Darth Vader). I tossed in tiny strips of yellow paper with titles of all the Muslim literature that I own. Whenever I finish a book, I shall randomly pluck out my next read from this goblet, and thus conduct my reading theatrics as such. I think this is a fun, creative way to do Ramadan Readathon this year. What say you? If this works out well, I may incorporate it for most, if not all, of my future bibliophilic high jinks.

Once again, if you are interested in learning more about the Ramadan Readathon, please visit the links above, or check out Nadia’s blog here. This year it shall run from April 23rd to May 23rd. Throughout these four weeks, I shall be sharing plenty of content on Islamic books, including a tour of my own collection, so keep an eye out for those as well!

Welcome to The Djinn Reader: A Dedicated Diverse Books Blog

Asalam-a-laikum and bula, friends! Welcome to The Djinn Reader!

My name is Shafiya Mū, although I’m also known as Yon Nyan over on my original blog, BiblioNyan. I’m an Indian-Fijian, Muslim-Buddhist, Queer, Trans Nonbinary, neurodivergent human that absolutely adores books of all sorts, especially #OwnVoices Asian literature. Even though I currently run a semi-successful space for bookish and otaku content, there were two main reasons that eventually led to my choice of beginning anew with The Djinn Reader. I’d like to share them with you today, along with my plans for this book blog moving forward.

Firstly, I am extremely passionate about diversity in literature and I felt that the message of what diversity means to me as an individual of various marginalised backgrounds was starting to become buried underneath the vehemence of pop culture offered at BiblioNyan. I don’t regret what BiblioNyan has become because it has helped me to evolve my pursuits while also embracing my many interests without apology. It’s also helped me to come out of my introverted shell to make new friends, while teaching me how to be a constructively critical thinker with an open mind. Nonetheless, I felt that it was time to start fresh and try something a bit closer to what I would like to accomplish one day professionally.

This brings me to my second reason; I needed to build a semi-professional portfolio of my writings for submission to any and all M.A. and M.F.A. programmes that I shall be applying to within the upcoming year or so. Since blogging has become somewhat of a forte of mine, using a blog platform seemed like the best way to create this portfolio. Since I am obtaining a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English Literature with a minor in Asian Studies and my current aspiration is to get my graduate degree in Literature or Creative Writing, having a dedicated platform for Diverse literatures became the most appealing option.

With regard to why I shall only be focusing the content offered on The Djinn Reader to #OwnVoices diverse books, including Queer literature only, well, it’s simple really: as a Queer, Asian person, having authentic representation in literature of my culture, beliefs, heritage, and more is indescribably validating and incredibly important, and makes me understand how extremely vital such representation in literature is for all sorts of individuals. It is something that I would like to celebrate and continue to promote as much as possible in publishing. While the number of diverse books are growing year by year, the offered titles are still significantly low when compared to other groups, or they all fit specific expectations from non-diverse readers. For example, Asian individuality doesn’t abide via a single monolith of identity. There are many different sorts of people who identify as Asian with innumerable experiences, including the experiences of Asian diaspora and Queer Asians. Raising awareness for our existence and advocating for Queer and Asian equity in literature is a life-long passion of mine. It’s why I’m studying the subjects that I do in the pursuits of the degrees mentioned. The same exact thing can be said for Black, Polynesian, Indigenous identities as well, just to name a few.

I also hope to become a published author of #OwnVoices Queer and Asian narratives myself, as well as an educator of Asian cultures and literature. Being able to think and speak critically about these books and being able to have healthy discourse about it in the classroom with students and fellow educators is a critical step towards that dream of obtaining equal representation within the publishing and academic worlds, as well as within local communities within these marginalised groups.

I hope that you will join me on my journey of travelling on magical and enlightening narrative adventures via diversity in fiction. As I’ve mentioned, this is a professional portfolio for my Master’s applications, but it is also very much a project that is near-and-dear to my heart and everything that I am as a Queer, Asian-Polynesian person. Let’s read together and celebrate the differences that make us all so unique and vibrantly beautiful.


Blog Schedule:

There was originally going to be a blog schedule for The Djinn Reader, however, with current University obligations and being overwhelmed with professional projects, there is currently no set schedule for this blog. My ultimate goal is to create a consistent posting timeline in the upcoming Summer to Autumn seasons. Thanks for being patient with me while I finalise this element.


Disclaimers:

All thoughts and discussions shared here shall be my own, unless otherwise stated or noted. Since I am a Muslim-Buddhist and being both of these things are very important to me, I may occasionally have discussions about my faith on this space, especially if they relate to books that I have been reading (an example would be musings on Islam after completing The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty, or feelings on Buddhism after reading The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, to name a couple). This also extends to discussions on mental health as I am a neurodivergent human (I’m on the Autism spectrum and I have mental health conditions; I’m relatively open-minded about these things, so if you’d like to chat about mental health, whether for advice or comfort, please don’t hesitate in contacting me at the e-mail address listed below), and raising awareness for mental health is something I am also quite passionate about.


Contacting Me:

If you have questions or concerns, and don’t want to drop them in the comments below, please feel free to e-mail me: thedjinnreader@gmail.com (thedjinnreader at gmail dot com).

Additionally, I can be reached via Instagram and Twitter via the handle @thedjinnreader (at thedjinnreader).

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me today and for reading through my welcome post! I look forward to sharing diverse content with you all.

Bula!