Best Books of October & November (2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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!