7 Criminally Underrated Books by Asian Authors

Recently, I came across a really great post by YourTitaKate, who recommended seven underrated books by Asian authors on her blog. Kate also added in her post the link to another blogger, Michelle (Magical Reads) and her post on what underrated book means, booktwt’s view on underrated books, and vice versa. I’m linking the post here as well so you can check it out yourself.

Anyway, Kate’s recommendation post on underrated books inspired me to do one myself, since thanks to participating in Year of the Asian Reading Challenge last year, I came across several gems who are so underrated that they barely got 500 reviews on GoodReads. So I decided to do a post of my own, featuring books that:

•I’ve read and reviewed
•have less than 500 reviews on GoodReads
•by Asian authors (since May is the AAPI Heritage Month)
•in the young adult category
•were released in the last five years

So without further ado, here are the 7 criminally underrated books by Asian authors I’d recommend.

01. RISE OF THE RED HAND by Olivia Chadha

Cover art by Rashed Al Akroka;
Design by Dana Li

Published February 04, 2021
Published by Erewhon Books
No. of GoodReads review: 91
GoodReads rating: 3.68
GoodReads page here
My review on GoodReads here

RISE OF THE RED HANDS is a YA cli-fi by author Olivia Chadha, set in a cyberpunk dystopian South Asian Province split into two, the privileged Uplanders who live inside a climate-controlled biodome, while the poor, underprivileged Downlanders live in a slum outside where they fight for survival in every step of the way. Our protagonist, Ashiva, works with the underground rebel group, Lal Haath, aka Red Hand, who is fighting to expose the nasty corruption of the South Asian Province’s technocratic government to the world.

ROTRH is such an underrated gem. The premise presents a gritty, grim image of the future, including human corruption despite climate collapse, as well as the scraps of humanity you can find in the most unexpected places. I’d heartily recommend this underappreciated book that came out earlier this year.

02. PRIVATE LESSONS by Cynthia Salaysay

Published May 12, 2020
Published by Candlewick Press
No. of GoodReads review: 113
GoodReads rating: 3.48
GoodReads page here
My review on GoodReads here

This is one of the best books about sexual assaults I’ve read so far. The poignant way the author shows us Claire’s journey is really touching. At seventeen, she’s lost her father and lives with her religious mother in San Francisco. An aspiring pianist, she begins to take lessons from a famous pianist famous for his charms and talents, as well as notorious for his strict, stern ways of teaching. Expect to find an illicit teacher-student that no way romanticizes this kind of thing, rather shows you a harrowing portrait of sexual abuse and grooming that is perfect for the current #MeToo movement. The journey from naïvety to self-realization to recovery to finding your voice and confronting your abuser, this is a very emotional book that doesn’t include any melodramatic moments, yet can being tears to your eyes both from the steak, harrowing reality and the powerful message it sends.

03. REBEL SEOUL by Axie Oh

Book design by Elizabeth Casal; Jacket illustration by Sebastien Hue

Published September 14, 2017
Published by Tu Books
No. of GoodReads review: 253
GoodReads rating: 3.95
GoodReads page here
My review on GoodReads here

Another cli-fi in this list, this book is less gritty and grim, more full of giant mecha reminiscent of Pacific Rim but minus the Kaiju. Set in a futuristic Neo Seoul, this is the story of Lee Jaewon, a teenager who escaped brutal street gangs to enter a military sponsored weapons project. One of the most action packed sci-fi I’ve read so far and enjoyed every moment of it. From k-drama style teen romance to Pacific Rim style action sequences, this book has it all. But don’t be fooled by these descriptions that it’s all romance and actions. This book also features the corrupt government you’ll find in RISE OF THE RED HAND, as well as how far they can go to spread propaganda and suppress the truth.

04. THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE WORLD by London Shah

Cover art by Mike Heath; Cover design by Marci Senders; Lettering by Russ Gray

Published October 29, 2019
Published by Disney Hyperion
No. of GoodReads review: 322
GoodReads rating: 3.79
GoodReads page here
My review on GoodReads here

I was lucky enough to read one of the earliest draft of this mesmerizing book. Another cli-fi on the list (I guess cli-fi genre is totally my thing ;)), this one is set not on the aboveground but at the bottom of the oceans. The world has experienced a devastating catastrophe that rose the sea level and drowned every city on the planet. People now live underwater and travel via submarines and submersibles. Layla McQueen is a Afghan-British teen submersible racer who enlists herself into a submersible race to free her father from wrongful imprisonment. Throughout the book, you’ll encounter a brooding love interest, a butler who takes after Oscar Wilde (you heard me!) and an adorable, fluffy pup, Jojo. The setting is dazzlingly pretty and the worldbuilding is stunning. The cover can tell you enough.

05. THE SURPRISING POWER OF A GOOD DUMPLING by Wai Chim

Cover and text design by Romina Panetta Edwards

Published August 5, 2019
Published by Allen & Unwin
No. of GoodReads review: 401
GoodReads rating: 4.12
GoodReads page here
My review on GoodReads here

This book is such a heartbreaker. But then again, so are all the great books that deftly capture reality. And the reality for mentally ill people are often full of pain and suffering, not just due to the fact that mental illness is unfairly misunderstood and villainized, also because rarely do mentally ill people get a realistic portrayal of their experiences. This book is full of raw, painful moments, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain many moments of joy and peace. Although our protagonist, Anna, doesn’t have mental illness, rather it’s her mother, the portrayal doesn’t become incorrect. Through this story, the author shows us the struggles of mental illness but also the struggles of immigrant life. The racism, the way mental illness is a touchy subject among Asians, the way people mock and bully mentally ill people. Every scene here is poignant and moving. A must read 100%.

06. MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW by Samira Ahmed

Cover by David Lanaspa

Published April 7, 2020
Published by Soho Teen
No. of GoodReads review: 406
GoodReads rating: 3.88
GoodReads page here
My review on GoodReads here

The word HIStory itself says enough. History is about and by men. Rarely does history tells us about female figures. Up until the 20th century, women had almost no presence in history, unless they were empresses and queens, like queen Elizabeth I, queen Victoria, or Catherine the Great. And often famous historical female figures were white women, as I mentioned above. Women of color rarely get any mention, let alone praise. No matter their contribution to society or country, they’re either erased or villainized. In MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW, Samira Ahmed tells us the story of a fictional young woman of color who inspired many well-known figures in history yet remained unnamed and in the shadows, thus telling us about the hidden figures of history, the women who got pushed either to the margins or completely erased, even their contributions hijacked. Our protagonist, a Muslim French-Indian-American teen, who goes on a journey to unravel one such figure erased from history by the men in her life.

07. IGNITE THE STARS by Maura Milan

Cover artwork by Craig White;
Cover model: Jessika Van;
Design by Ellen Kokontis

Published September 4, 2018
Published by Albert Whitman
No. of GoodReads review: 452
GoodReads rating: 3.92
GoodReads page here
My review on GoodReads here

Another sci-fi in the bunch, but this time far into the future and into the space. Our protagonist is Is Cōcha, a criminal mastermind and daredevil pilot who has been attacking and terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the futuristic space equivalent of the British Empire. After she is captured via blackmail, she is forcefully enrolled in a military academy run by the Commonwealth, to show the rest of the universe they’ve suppressed the biggest revel out there. However, things don’t go as they plan out for Ia Cōcha, who continues her rebellion throughout her stay in the academy.

So that’s the 7 criminally underrated YA books by Asian authors that I recommend. Do you know any such underrated gems that has less than 500 reviews of GoodReads and think more people should read it? Let me know in the comment section below.

My Review of THE UNRAVELING by Benjamin Rosenbaum

I dunno if you’ve read the novel SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen, but while reading this book, I was reminded of this Regency romance. Now, you must be wondering, what on earth does a Regency romance have anything to do with a sci-fi set in a secondary world?

The connection lies in the two books’ protagonists. While the Regency romance has two sisters who are vastly different in temperament; one being sense (as in serious and sedate in emotions) and the other being sensible (back then this word meant sensitive). Elinor Dashwood is as serious and sedate in emotions as Marianne Dashwood is impulsive and passionate. These two temperaments are the basis of THE UNRAVELING, a groundbreaking sci-fi by author Benjamin Rosenbaum.

In THE UNRAVELING, there are two genders in this world, the Staids and the Vails. Now, if you google their meanings, you’ll find that Staid means serious, conventional, unadventurous, solemn, somber, stiff, uptight. So yeah, the Staids are the gender who are like Elinor Dashwood. Meanwhile, the Vails are the Marianne Dashwood; passionate, hot-blooded, sentimental, sensitive. Vail also means, according to Google, “take off or lower (one’s hat or crown) as a token of respect or submission”, aka the Vails are seen as something of a lower status than the somber Staids. Though there isn’t any strict order for the two to mingle or even mate, it is forbidden for the Staids to display emotional outbursts and the Vails to engage in physical violence outside designated areas, referred to as “the mats”.

Anyway, this will be a polarizing book. I mean it. Firstly, because it’s written in neo-pronouns, no he/she. Instead, the Staids use ze/zir/zir/zirs/zirself; the Vails use ve/vir/vem/virs/vemself. For me, it was tough to not read he/she, rather ze/ve. The first time I began to read it, I only made it to chapter 2 before I had to stop and let my brain stew this in. That took me a week. I returned to the book a week later, dumping all my preconceived notions of gender and sex and bodies and privacy of mind and family structure out the door. I began again and this time, it took me less than two days to finish.

Yeah, the story sucked me in. At its heart, THE UNRAVELING is a story of two themes; gender identity, and individual vs community. In a world where your place is determined immediately after birth and forever, in a world where you’re rigidly stuck in one temperament and denied a chance to express yourself as you like, do things as you like, without any privacy inside even your head, life can become suffocating. So it becomes for our protagonist, 16yo staid Fift Brulio Iraxis. Born, gendered, and raised in a cohort (alternate word for “family” in this world) of close to ten parents, Fift often feels suffocated by the lack of privacy, lack of freedom, and lack of any chance to choose things for zirself. The same thing zir best friend, Shria, feels as well. Gendered as a Vail, vir cohort already makes a huge mistake when ve was a child, having another child without the consent of their community. That’s right! In this world, to have a child, you’ll need consent and approval from your community. If not and you still birth a child, the Midwives, who assign gender to a child upon birth, take away the child and bring them up as a midwife for future. While this community connection can be good, it has its dark sides. If a cohort doesn’t abide by the ridiculous rules imposed by the Midwives, the latter holds the power to disband any rule-breaking cohort and take away their child too. Also in this world, a child’s mind and activities can be constantly monitored by their parents, no matter how many bodies the child possesses (yup, here everybody possess more than one body, almost like clones, except they share one mind). So the chapters contain lots of head-hopping, another thing that can confuse and frustrate and irritate readers, thus further dividing their opinions about this book. Personally, it was somewhat tough to constantly head-hop almost every paragraph, but it became easier for me when I began to imagine the events in my head the way movies and shows with multiple parallel timelines are shown onscreen simultaneously. Maybe this tip can help you read it better? 🙂

Anyway, the story begins when Fift and Shria accidentally find themselves in the middle of an unprecedented revolutionary riot during a festivity and the inappropriate affection they display toward each other. Complicated by Fift’s stubborn refusal to conform to societies ridiculous rules that demand from zir to end zir friendship with Shria, they find themselves at the precipice of a revolution that not only threatens to tear them apart, but also tear apart their respective cohorts, their communities, even the fabric of this Midwives-controlled world. An interesting weave of utopia and dystopia, THE UNRAVELING both changes and challenges our ideas of gender, identity, personality, and family. Again, this book is full of conflicting tug-of-war between a sense of community and a sense of individuality. How far would you go to retain your individuality? Can you survive without a community? Can you have individuality within a community?

Another cool thing about this book is that the pressure and expectations to conform to this world’s standard of gender identity is eerily similar to our own. In real life, anything other than male or female is considered an oddity. Although at present, the binaries of gender identity has been pushed and broken a few many times, the idea still stands. In THE UNRAVELING, you’ll find similar rigid, arbitrary expectations and pressure from society. The Staids cannot express emotions, the Vails cannot access into the Long Conversation, a detailed, erudite collection of this world’s intellects. Although unlike ours, this society does not bestow gender identity based on one’s sex, the dark side of the binaries still stands. Gender identity in our world is assumed upon arbitrary attributes, same as the world of this book. The author does not reveal what makes the Midwives assign one child Staid gender and another child Vail, and by keeping this vague and somewhat arbitrary, the author is asking us to ask those same questions to ourselves, about our society’s way of assigning gender to a person. Just the same way Vails can be stoic and Staids can be expressive and both can be both or neither, men can have vagina and women can have penis and both can have both or neither as well.

With such deep thematic exploration, this book will divide people. Some will love it, some will hate it, some will hate it with love, some will love it with hate. But it’ll make all its readers think and perform some serious brain work to figure out the machinations of this book’s world.

Thank you, NetGalley and Erewhon Books, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Blog Tour: COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU by Tashie Bhuiyan

BOOK INFORMATION
Title: Counting Down With You
Author: Tashie Bhuiyan
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 04 May 2021
Age group: Young Adult
Genres: Contemporary

Cover: Samya Arif (artist), Gigi Lau (art direction)

Synopsis:
A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.

How do you make one month last a lifetime?

Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.

Karina is my girlfriend.

Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.

T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?

On-page Representation
POC (Bangladeshi-American MC; Black, Indian, and Chinese side characters)
Religion (Muslim MC)
LGBTQIAP+
Mental health (MC with anxiety)

Trigger and Content Warnings
In-depth discussions of mental health (specifically anxiety) and mentions of parental abuse (emotional and psychological)

Review:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

When I was reading this book, terrible, horrible brutality was being unleashed on the Palestinians by Israel. I did my best to show support by constantly retweeting and sharing stuff. But my heart was so heavy (cannot imagine what the Palestinians are going through), I needed something to keep me from spiraling into a depressive anxiety.

This book showed up to do exactly that.

Photo collected from Unsplash

It’s full of fluff and adorableness and all the cuteness that a romcom needs. Rarely I have read romcoms where the couple don’t fight over stupid misunderstandings that can be remedied over a conversation. Here, there is no such stupid misunderstandings. Here, it is mainly Karina’s story, not just the love story in her life. CDWY is more about Karina rebelling against her parents strict and stern rules flouted at her. Here, Karina battles anxiety and stress over making her parents happy, or making herself happy. Here, Karina finds support in a loving gaggle of best friends and a warm, kind-hearted grandmother. This book is about finding yourself and loving yourself and standing up for yourself, even if it means rebelling against the people you love with all your heart. Karina’s bravery is soft, not fiery and loud. She’s a brown girl whose parents are immigrants, dreaming and hoping big things for her, even if it means stifling her own dreams. Unlike white girls, it’s not easy for brown Desi girls with immigrant parents. Karina’s defiance and rebellion aren’t to disrespect and paint her parents as the villains. They’re to help her breathe, dream, create, without the suffocating pressure of parental expectations. If you’ve never experienced this, you won’t get it. Hence this is not a book everyone will get, let alone love. But anyone who’s been in Karina’s situation, like I was and still am sometimes, will see how strong and resilient she is. She wants her dreams fulfilled and her parents be proud of her for those dreams. And why not? Why can’t she have both? Why can’t she nurture and pursue her dreams, be with the boy who stole her heart, AND be blessed by her parents’ pride in her? Why can’t a brown girl have it all?? Too many times, Western media showed brown Muslim parents as someone who are strict to the point of honor killing and forced marriage and etc etc. Here, Tashie Bhuiyan shows that, although brown Muslim parents can be extremely strict to their kids, they can change and be lenient and supportive to their kids. And boy, am I glad to see this kind of portrayal.

we’ll pretend it’s a game of lost and found
or maybe even hide-and-seek
and perhaps for a while
in the darkness of the night
it will be enough
until the sun comes bursting from the east
and we fall to the flames

Page 197 of COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU by Tashie Bhuiyan, published by Inkyard Press (May 4, 2021)

Besides this, I also found copious amount of things represented through Karina that I too have experienced.

1. Her parents being no boys no boys no boys to her all the time, to the point she can’t even have a male friend.

2. Her parents having STEM career expectations from her. Mine did too until I rebelled in uni and became an English major, something Karina wants to do too.

3. Her parents not allowing petting and touching any dogs, calling them Haram and all. Until recent years, I too never touched dogs, stray or not, and I realized recently how much I’ve missed out!

4. Her anxiety! Oh God, her anxiety is so believable!! And relatable!! I’m often an anxious mess, especially when unwanted attention falls on me. I’ve been an anxious mess since high school and I know how Karina feels every time the most trivial thing go wrong and you have no control over the outcome.

Photo collected from Unsplash

5. Loving literature. I’m such a lit nerd. Ever since I could read, I’ve loved reading with all my existence. I even starve myself to save lunch money and use them to buy book. One Eid, I even told my parents not to buy me new clothes just so I can use the money to buy books. I live and breathe books and literature.

I am not Atlas, born to carry the weight of the world
I am Icarus, wanting and wanting and wanting
at the risk of exploding when I fly too close to the sun

Page 201 of COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU by Tashie Bhuiyan, published by Inkyard Press (May 4, 2021)

6. Like Karina, I too write poems occasionally and most of them are super personal.

Photo collected from Unsplash

Karina’s almost entire experience here were so relatable! I’ve almost never seen myself portrayed so well. This book is everything a brown Muslim girl like me needed and wanted and wished for from a YA romcom, no matter what my age is while reading it.

Thank you, NetGalley, Caffeine Book Tour, and Inkyard Press, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Links:

Amazon | GoodReads | Indigo | IndieBound | Alibris | Abebooks | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

AUTHOR:

Bio:
Tashie Bhuiyan is a Bangladeshi American writer based in New York City. She recently graduated from St. John’s University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations, and hopes to change the world, one book at a time. She loves writing stories about girls with wild hearts, boys who wear rings, and gaining agency through growth. When she’s not doing that, she can be found in a Chipotle or bookstore, insisting 2010 is the best year in cinematic history. (Read: Tangled and Inception.)

Links:

Website | GoodReads | Instagram | Twitter

Tour Schedule:

Launch Post

May 17
beyond a bookshelf
Literary Delirium
This Bookish Life Of Mine

May 18
legenbooksdary
Sunshine N’ Books
thr4sam

May 19
Heart’s Content
MissMaddyChats
READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA

May 20
A Book and Chai
A Logophile’s Love
The Mind of a Book Dragon

May 21
KymieeTriestoRead
Love, Paola
With Love, Saoudia

My Review of THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO (CHRONICLES OF THE BITCH QUEEN #1) by K.S. Villoso

⭐⭐⭐⭐

(spoilers below)

The thing about character driven fantasies is that their characters are much more interesting for three reasons: a) their agencies are most often solid af, b) the characters have this muchness that the characters from plot driven fantasies don’t usually possess, and c) the events that unfold are much more interesting and not clichéd than plot driven fantasies. Which is why THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO was such an interesting book for me. Not only did it have a protagonist closer to my age (I’m 24, Talyien is 26), also she’s a married woman who’s been separated from her husband and she has a child. Usually I don’t find fantasies with parent protagonists. It’s always the other way around. In a typical fantasy, Talyien’s son, Thanh, would’ve been the protagonist. His mom and dad are gone, he’s surrounded by spies and assassins and conspirators. His birth status is questioned etc etc. He’s the sole heir of two rival clans. His birth will supposedly usher in a peaceful era to an otherwise constantly turbulent Jin-sayeng.

However, that’s not the case in this book. Here the protagonist is Queen Talyien, whose husband left her for her infidelity, whose child may or may not be a bastard, whose childhood friend is the ultimate grumpy grump, his possessive and brooding level off the charts. She also meets a conman who, at first, felt like a creepy creepster but later turns out to be a softie cinnamon roll who had his heart broken once and it was his own damn fault.

However, that’s not the case in this book. Here the protagonist is Queen Talyien, whose husband left her for her infidelity, whose child may or may not be a bastard, whose childhood friend is the ultimate grumpy grump, his possessive and brooding level off the charts. She also meets a conman who, at first, felt like a creepy creepster but later turns out to be a softie cinnamon roll who had his heart broken once and it was his own damn fault.

Anyway, the point is, THE WOLF OF OREN-YARO is not your typical fantasy. Queen Talyien is a practical minded woman who has her equal share of hot temper, rational mind, and emotional heart. All three of them drive her judging by the situations she finds herself in. From the highest high of being the sole queen of a country who’s never had a ruling queen before, to the lowest low, i.e. being sold as a prostitute to a gangster to later being sexually assaulted on the street in broad daylight to being on the run from assassins galore. She’s been everywhere, seen and done everything, broke bread with everyone. She’s evaded brothel madams, horny gangster leaders, ambitiously unhinged princes, skeptical and judgmental husbands, sympathetic and understanding conmen, even faced misogynistic highwaymen and calculating officials. She’s seen it all. The book is written in a breakneck pace and you won’t have time to rest and relax before another wringer is yeeted on your way. If you’re a fan of fast paced fantasy completely driven by the characters and their bad, bad choices?? This is the book for you.

Thank you, NetGalley and Little, Brown Book UK, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

My Review of THE ONES WE’RE MEANT TO FIND by Joan He

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Cerebral yet hearty

That’s Joan He books for you. They’re always always intellectual, books you need to reread at least twice to understand the web of twists and tangles she’s spun in the lives of her complex yet honest-to-goodness characters. There’s a certain naïvety that flows through all her protagonists, a set of simpleminded beliefs and morals that transform and develop as the stories progress. Like her debut, DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE, her sophomore book, THE ONES WE’RE MEANT TO FIND, is everything a Joan He book is supposed to be. Albeit it has Ghibli-esque aesthetics in the beginning, by the end, TOWMTF turns out to be more Shyamalan than Ghibli. The way the plot twists are revealed certainly indicate so.

The story, at its center, orbits around love. Though the main type of love you’ll find at the beginning is sisterly love, it soon branches and morphs into more. How love operates differently on others, how loss of the loved ones drive us toward completely different directions. Sometimes we choose to do good in the name of the ones we lost, sometimes evil. Sometimes, it’s not purely good or purely evil, just something that falls on the neutral category and/or resides in the grey areas of life, you get my gist.

The story of TOWMTF begins with two timelines, one where Cee is marooned alone to a deserted island, barely surviving; and the other with Kasey Mizuhara, a 16yo science prodigy coping from the loss of her older sister, Celia, recently missing. The two timeline do not intersect; however, they do affect each other. One’s revelation clarifies the confusing events of the other. One’s emotional arc carries the other’s as well. Cee struggles to survive in the deserted island, where she’s constantly trying to build a boat or a raft, anything that can get her off the island; meanwhile Kasey struggles to cope with the loss of her sister the way the society expects her to and when she doesn’t, they condemn and criticize her, sometimes with contempt, sometimes with curiosity and condolence. The two sisters’ lives change when two boys enter them, and thus inevitably change the course of their lives to the point they’ll have tons of existential questions and be compelled to do questionable things to keep their existence.

In the end, the book is about how we view love and loss and how we either allow them to drive us or process through them to overcome being enslaved to them. While Kasey and Cee process through their traumas and loss and grief and love, others do it in different ways, ways that certainly falls to the category of evil and machiavellism, to the point of ecofascism. Anyway, the point of TOWMTF is summed up in one line from the book itself:

“Logic ends where love begins.”

Ain’t that true, people.

What I personally loved about this book:

—The way Joan creates complicated characters yet they’re easy to sympathize or empathize with. No matter they’re the antagonist or that they slowly descend into the negative arc.

—The dynamic between the sisters, as well as with the boys in their lives. Even the friendships the girls share with others around them, be they humans or bots, can be both endearing and complex.

—I love the education bot that is U-me. Every time she enters the scene and chimes in dictionary definitions of words she hears, I’m reminded of both Wall-E and BB-8. They’re both small and cute and heartwarmingly oblivious to the complexity of the emotions and events unfolding around them. Every time Cee leaves U-me in the island, my heart breaks for the little one.

(Mild spoiler below, please skip to the end of the review if you haven’t read the book yet)

—As much as the relationship between Cee and Hero is beautiful and romantic, it’s the skewed relationship between Kasey and Actinium that draws me to it. God, I ship them so hard!! They’re so alike, almost to the point of soulmates—Actinium events hints at it strongly at one point! Chock-full of angst and pining and tension. I love both scenes on the pier of the island, both full of palpable tension and angst that’s begging to be given release. But of course, knowing Kasey and Actinium, that won’t happen. I especially love the showdown between the adult Kasey and the adult Actinium on the pier, when he grabs her by the waist and prevents her from toppling over. God, the density of the angst and tension between them in that one scene made me fan myself and made my toes curl, LOLOL. I really ship them despite how unhealthy and toxic their relationship degrades to in the end.

(Spoiler ends)

This isn’t your typical sci-fi. It’s isn’t sci-fi per se, more like a cli-fi. But I’d 100% recommend it because a) it kept me up all night, b) it has an open, bittersweet ending that’ll haunt you for the rest of your life and probably put you into a reading slump, and c) despite being a cli-fi, a new genre, it still brings its A-game and is full of both heart and soul, as well as cerebral and smart.

Thank you, NetGalley and Text Publishing, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Blog Tour: THE BEAUTIFUL ONES by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Cover art by Emma Leonard
Design by Katie Kumowicz

You know how you read an author’s recent release and upon finding their writing SOOOOOOOO good, you rush back to read their previous works but get somewhat disappointed that you don’t find those as good as the recent release??

WELL, THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO MS. SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA!!!

The first work by her I ever read was MEXICAN GOTHIC, which came out last year, followed by UNTAMED SHORE. MEXICAN GOTHIC was so good, I was wary of approaching THE BEAUTIFUL ONES, an earlier title by her because before, I was disappointed by several authors whose late releases were masterpiece worthy but not their previous ones (nothing wrong or negative about this, btw, since your craft develops and improves the more you write). But Ms. Moreno-Garcia did not disappoint me. Like her aforementioned titles, her previous works are also amazing, THE BEAUTIFUL ONES being a solid proof of that.

THE BEAUTIFUL ONES is a fantasy romance, emphasis on romance. This is the sort of fantasy romance I’ve been earnestly searching for for years. The one with slow-burn and lots of pining and angst and profound love and no melodrama or clichés. I’m so glad I picked up this book because now it goes straight to my all-time favorite shelf on GoodReads.

I’m just… Ughhhhhh so in love with this book, especially with my cute af ship, Nina and Hector (ship name: Nector). The last time I loved a ship so much was while reading AN ENCHANTMENT OF RAVENS by Margaret Rogerson, another fantasy romance that I adore.

Anyway, THE BEAUTIFUL ONE isn’t fantasy heavy, the only fantastical element being some individuals in this world are blessed with psychokinesis and other such preternatural powers since birth. Though not demonized, it is certainly not celebrated in this world, especially among women from upper class. Sometimes considered a flippant and lowly thing to possess, sometimes something abnormal to the point being called a witch. Though not hunted down by angry mobs, having such abilities does not bode well with most upper class folks, and thus our heroine is plagued.

Antonina “Nina” Beaulieu is a 19yo plain, simple girl who hails from a nouveau riche family with large coffers set aside for her, as well as a wealthy, compassionate cousin whose lack of heir ensures Nina will be one of his heirs when his time comes. But this is not what sets her apart. What sets her apart are her psychokinesis, as well as her naivety and innocence. Brought up sheltered in a loving household in the caring countryside, she sees the world through a rosy tinted spectacles, until heartbreak makes her steel herself and mature and grow. However, here is where Ms. Moreno-Garcia shines. She shows us two types of parallels among the three narrators, one of innocence and one of passion. While Nina is the sweet, innocent protagonist, Hector is almost the opposite. I say “almost” because deep down, he too worships an idealistic point of view, like Nina does. While Nina dreams of courtly love she’s read about in novels, Hector relentlessly pursues a passionate affair, reminiscent of the ones you’ll find in the Brontë novels. They both love with all the innocence of first love and they love deeply and unselfishly too. However, such is not the case for Valerie Beaulieu née Véries, the main antagonist. Because she did not have a sheltered, cosseted upbringing like Nina, she harbors bitterness and anger deep inside her, one that fuels her to constantly see every gesture, every touch, every word and movement as battle strategies and war tactics. The similarities you’ll find between the three are astonishing and this is where Ms. Moreno-Garcia shows us her true artistry. It is not easy to show three characters simultaneously being similar yet worlds apart. Nina and Valerie cannot be similar on physical, surface level. Nina is plain and simple, naïve and innocent. Valerie is devastatingly beautiful and sophisticated, calculating and shrewd. She’s seen the world burn her and she rose from the ashes. Although Nina did not experience a cruel backstory like Valerie did, her life is not all roses and sunshine. She too suffers from constant scrutiny of never being accepted, never being loved and appreciated for who she is without the lure of her weighty dowry or the repulsiveness of her uncommon abilities. People are either drawn to her for her wealthy background or scorn her for her powers. They don’t see the true her, a country girl who just wants a marriage full of love and catches beetles from riverside meadows; just as they don’t see the true Valerie, who she is, a possessive, passionate woman who covets it all and will not apologize for it. Valerie’s story is a tragic one and not something incidental. And here is where she and Hector resemble. Hector’s could’ve been a tragic Byronic hero due to his stubborn clinging to the perfect Valerie he constructed in his mind, not the real life one. Hector and Valerie are too passionate for their own good. They feel too much and impulsively act upon their feelings without taking into consideration of the consequences or the morality of their action. But while Hector lets go, Valerie does not and pays for it. Through it all, what becomes evident is the inability to let the past go and the stubbornness to cling to the fantasized version of someone can be extremely harmful. Nina idolizes Hector until she is forced to come out of it. Hector venerates Valerie until harsh reality snaps him out of it. Valerie invests too much of her reality into a pipe-dream romance until she loses everything she already has. Love and heartbreak and betrayals are galore in this Belle Époque era inspired fantasy romance that’ll make you giddy from the romantic moments and stay up late at nights and finish it in less than 24 hours, like I did. Ultimately, what Ms. Moreno-Garcia manages to achieve is a romance where courtly love is simultaneously deconstructed and reconstructed and that is not an easy feat. It only goes to show her adroitness.

This is the first time I was ever granted two eARC from both the US and the UK publishers of any single book. Thank you, NetGalley, Macmillan/Tor, Quercus Books, and Jo Fletcher Books for providing me with the eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

My Review of ROOHI (2021 movie)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

—Where’s Roohi?
—She ran away.
—With whom?
—With herself.

If you click the “about” section of this movie on Netflix, it’ll tell you this is a comedy movie, a horror comedy. Bollywood has been making this specific genre of movies recently, full of scary scenes that are also full of comic actions and reactions. One of the three leads in this movie, Rajkumar Rao, is known for starring in such horror comedies, his previous one being STREE.

But I like to think ROOHI has a strong feminist messages toward all women, something not seen in any movies before, Bollywood or not.

MARRY YOUR MONSTROUS SIDE.

The story goes like this: a town in rural India has a specific, very misogynistic tradition— bride kidnapping. If a man likes an unmarried girl, he’ll have her kidnapped and forcefully marry her, no matter if she consents or not. This has been going on for generations. The two male leads, Bhawra and Kattanni, work under Guniya Shakeel, who runs a professional bride kidnapping business. Pay them a large sum of money and they’ll kidnap your chosen girl for you. While visiting a neighboring town to kidnap a girl as per their latest contract, the two longtime pals kidnap a girl, Roohi, played by Jahnvi Kapoor. But a problem arises which causes the wedding to be postponed. To keep Roohi hidden, Bhawra and Kattanni keep her hostage in an abandoned mill in the middle of a forest. While there, the two discover Roohi has a witch’s spirit possessing her body for a year now, a witch with inverted feet called Mudiyapairi witch. Considered the most dangerous witches out there, such witches have only one desire, to get married and become someone’s wife. If, by a certain full blue moon, the witch doesn’t get married, both her and the girl she’s possessing will die.

Now here comes the twist; while Bhawra falls for the girl Roohi, Kattanni falls for Afza, the witch’s spirit inhabiting her body. The two friends fight over her, almost ruining their years long friendship. But the ending? It’ll both surprise you and make you pleased. Unlike a typical love triangle where the girl ends up with one of the guys, here she ends up with her own self. To be specific, Roohi ends up with Afza, the witch inside her, the monstrous witch who’s been causing so much strife in her life. In the powerful climactic scene, Roohi ties her own dupatta with her wrist, circumvents the holy fire by herself, and applies vermillion on her forehead by herself. She vows to herself, aka to the witch inside her, that she accepts her, will always be by her side, be there for each other through thick and thin, and what have you.

This scene has not only stunned me, it’s touched me, moved my heart tbh. Roohi has been mostly passive all throughout the movie. The only one active was Afza. At one point, when the former tries to end her life, the latter scolds her, telling her they’ve been living together in the same body for the past year. Why hasn’t she (Roohi) accepted her (Afza) yet? Afza claims she is Roohi’s strength, the strong, resilient, rebellious side of her. When will Roohi accept Afza is Roohi, Roohi is Afza?

At the end of the movie, where typically the hero takes the heroine to their honeymoon riding whatever motor vehicle, here Roohi rides down a rusty motorcycle all by herself, with Afza. When both Bhawra and Kattanni muse that, whoever among the girls love one of them truly, she’ll turn. If Roohi loves Bhawra, she’ll glance over her shoulder like a normal human. If Afza loves Kattanni, she’ll turn her own neck 360° as before. I knew what was going to happen and it truly did.

Roohi/Afza didn’t turn, instead they looks into the motorcycle mirror, where Roohi’s human eyes meet Afza’s inhuman ones, they smile and ride down the motorcycle, finally united as one. When the police come and one officer asks the old hag who helped Bhawra and Kattanni where Roohi is, the aforementioned dialogue occurs.

In the book, THE MADWOMAN IN THE ATTIC by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, the authors argue that in a lot of Victorian literature, women are either portrayed angelic and pure, or as madwoman and monstrous. In South Asia, women too are either considered a devi or a churel. At one point in the movie, Roohi says some people consider her a monster, possessing a witch’s spirit; while others think she’s simply suffering from split personality, something that is often demonized by Hollywood and others in an ableist manner. Roohi is either a madwoman or a monster to the world she lives in. People profit from curing and exorcizing women like her, to the point a whole town’s only profession is exorcism. In a world where women don’t have any agency over who they get to marry, Roohi chooses to marry herself, to her monstrous, mad side. In the Hindu religion, marriage is considered a very sacred occasion where two souls merge into one—one body, one soul, one life, one fate for seven life. Here, Roohi married herself and runs away with her own self. And she lives happily ever after.

I have never reviewed a movie on my blog before, let alone a Bollywood movie which I rarely watch. This was a first and I love it to the point to consider it a favorite now. A must watch in my opinion. Heartily recommended.

My Review of FOLKLORN by Angela Mi Young Hur

⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Disclaimer: contains spoilers)

I’m not an immigrant. I have family members who are but I’m not. So the trauma and experience Elsa and her family, even Oskar, go through are something I can sympathize with but cannot empathize with. However, I do empathize with other traumas, particularly those inflicted upon you by a family member, those you love and trust and care for despite all the abuse and trauma that they inflict upon you because they couldn’t process their own wounds and traumas and by making you their punching bags, they relieved some of those traumas from their backs.

But the thing with trauma is, if you don’t process it properly, no matter how much and how long you inflict it upon others, it’ll infect and fester, until you cannot separate any action and reaction in life from the traumas. I’ve been there. I’ve done that.

While reading the eARC, I skimmed through some of the reviews FOLKLORN received. They all mentioned generational trauma and immigrant experience and vice versa. I was surprised nobody mentioned mourning and grieving. Perhaps I am wrong in interpreting that this book is also about grieving. Perhaps it’s my own misinterpretation. But if I don’t include my interpretation, correct or incorrect, here then it’ll be not honest of me as a reviewer.

So here it goes.

I think alongside the aforementioned themes, this book was also about grieving. Loss is one of the biggest traumas out there. Loss is an universal trauma that eats away at you with the loss of whoever or whatever you lost. Elsa and her family all lost something. Oskar too lost something. Sometimes they’re big, huge, never-going-to-be-filled losses. Sometimes they’re minor and we don’t even know they’re losses until years later. But loss is loss. I know loss. I know what it is like losing family members. Since 2011, I’ve lost ten family members. Some of them I was very close with. I was close to losing more in recent times. Loss is painful, yes. Loss is also maddening. It drives you crazy, not only with grief, but also with the overwhelming love you had inside you for the one you lost that now you cannot give them because they’re gone and you don’t know what to do with all these emotions and feelings. So you’re overwhelmed and stressed and don’t know what to do.

You need closure. Yet you don’t know how to get it.

Such is Elsa’s journey. Since childhood, she’s experienced loss. At 14, she lost her mother, not to death, just to physical trauma. At 30, she truly lost her mother. Because of generational trauma, she didn’t know how to express her love for her mother. So she kept them either buried or expressed wrongly. Either way, she never knew what to do with her love for her mother. How to find closure with the hole inside her the loss of her mother left. Throughout the book, she looked for that closure. Desperate to find a missing sister her mother claimed she had.

But in the end, we too learn her mother was grieving. Her baby was a stillborn. The love she nurtured inside herself to shower upon the baby was left festering inside her. Yes, love can fester too. Love is an emotion after all. This love she drained out of her in two ways; writing dead-end letters to a daughter she imagined she’d given up for adoption upon birth, and trying to mold her living daughter in the shape she’d have likened for her stillborn baby. This is her inflicting trauma upon Elsa in what she believed as signs of love and care. As mothers passing down folktales to her children, never noticing she wasn’t loving her child, rather smothering her to the point driving her away.

But in the end, we’re humans. Mourning and grieving are no linear process. No rulebook states how you do it, how long it can take, and how you can find closure. Same goes for traumas. Sometimes we heal. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we don’t heal entirely. FOLKLORN gives us a tale of mother and daughter, of sisters and brother, of parents and children, and how broken families can still find healing, find closure, find love. In ways unconventional and uncanny.

Thank you, NetGalley and Erewhon Books, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

My Review of THE DESCENT OF THE DROWNED (The Descent Of The Drowned #1) by Ana Lal Din

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This review was long overdue, almost for two weeks and I don’t know why I procrastinated, probably because it left me in such a void over its story, its characters, the way events unfolded and characters died (literally and figuratively) and how things fell apart and my heart broke and I could imagine the author having an evil cackle every time a reader heart broke because of her wily storytelling.

So yeah this book won my heart and raged a battle in me and left me in sixes and sevens so much that I can’t pick up any new book, it’s not even funny!!

I love Roma… Oh where do I begin with her?! She’s won the second most loved female character’s place in my list (yeah I got a list, sue me!), bested only by a small margin by Miryem Mandelstam (from SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik). Roma is just… squeals so fucking cool (excuse my language). She’s just purely amazing. She’s so badass and powerful without wielding weapons or burning down palaces to the ground. Her words, her thoughts, her actions, reactions, decisions, everything made me gasp and fangirl over her. I think I have a crush. I’ll let you know in 20582958 days when it ends.

Anyhoo, the book has been comped with (fairly) and hailed as a copycat (unfairly) of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES series. Lemme set you straight if the synopsis landed you in the latter camp. Comping is okay because both are fantasies authored by Pakistani authors and set in secondary worlds heavily influenced by South Asian culture. Both have one warrior-esque male protagonist and one powerless-by-world female protagonist. Both worlds are unforgiving and ruthless and wicked to the core. Otherwise? They have almost nothing in common. Not in stories, not in characters, not in worldbuilding. Almost 95% of the two series have nothing in common. Both are amazing in their own accords and deserve lots of recognition and love and praises and fandom for their uniqueness.

I truly hope people will give TDotD a chance and not mash the two series just because they’re authored by two Pakistani women and contain South Asian culture inspired world.

So moving on, the story is set in an oppressive world full of disgusting misogynistic notions and toxic masculinity. I’ll ask you to check the author’s website for content warning because this book is REALLY dark, much more than AEITA (Another thing I’d point out is that while AEITA is young adult, TDotD is adult fantasy). Please please take lots of self-care and skip pages if you find yourself facing a triggering content. This book is not for the faint hearted. It’s full of vile, sexist characters who treat women really badly and sexual assault is rampant here. Roma is a lamiadasi, meaning she is a servant of Goddess Lamia whom she and her sisters (not biological) worship and devote their lives to. But part of being a lamiadasi is also to be auctioned off to wealthy patrons, sleep with them, and bear their children. So this is pretty much sacred prostitution, where devadasis have almost no say in their lives and patrons can do whatever they want with them once they bid the highest and win the auctions.

Pretty morbid, right?

The second protagonist is Leviathan Blackburn, who is the bastard son and only heir of the immortal tyrant, the Firawn. Unlike his father and his stepmother, he’s conscientious, albeit he struggles to act morally. To him, the end justifies the means and so he takes a great many dubious natured paths to achieve outcomes he desires to help his mother’s people, the clans (who are heavily inspired by Muslim refugees all over the globe, especially the Rohingya refugees). Unlike with Roma, I couldn’t find myself to like Leviathan, especially after what he does to Roma 75% through the book. So how Roma treats him at the end is very much satisfying to me lol. Anyway, while Roma struggles with the toxic society where she’s powerless and her life is used and abused as men intend to, Leviathan struggles with earning the respect and trust of his mother’s people, as well as investigating the suspicious death of his foster mother, Gabrielle. Unlike Elias from AEITA, you’ll find Leviathan has much more grey morals and a more tortured soul seeking redemption.

I really like how the author does not shy away from the disturbing sides of South Asian societies and cultural practices. She does not sugarcoat anything, nor does she justify her characters’ actions, especially that of Leviathan. Fantasy books where characters do not get away with committing questionable acts is my favorite part and the author copiously uses this on her characters, sparing nobody any mercy if they don’t deserve it.

Overall, this was a solid read and is itching me for book 2. Also I should go back to AEITA and finish that series until the sequel of TDotF comes out next year.

Thank you, White Tigress Press and NetGalley, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

My Review of REAPER OF SOULS (KINGDOM OF SOULS #2) by Rena Barron

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a BAD book.

I staunchly believes that in SFF trilogies, second books are the baddest books, the most painful books because at the end of it, you find yourself at the dark night of the soul part. Favorite characters die, favorite characters get imprisoned or lose things that are important to them, or just get plain bitch slapped in the face.

Therefore, REAPER OF SOULS is a BAD book.

As I raced across the last pages of this BAD book, I kept mumbling What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck. Honestly, my brain came out as a trembling, mumbling, incoherent mush post finishing this book. I survived this book, I wanted to yell across social media.

Anyhoo, REAPER OF SOULS is a BAD book.

B—Brilliant
A—Amazing
D—Daring

Like for real! It got my heart racing, my lips frantically moving as I mouthed the words (that’s how I read), and my brain zooming in on the words on my phone (I read eARC on my phone btw). I’m pretty sure even if a firecracker popped near my ears, I’d go deaf and still not feel it.

I was too absorbed by this book. It sucked me in like the Jumanji game and when it ended, I was spit out into the real world like Robin Williams from that much loved movie. I wanted to scream at that ending, especially the second last chapter revelation (you’ll get what I mean once you read it, folks).

Anyway, the first 1/4th of REAPER OF SOULS was about Arrah and Rudjek and the rest of the world surviving and reacting to the events that transpired in the last book’s climax. The edams are gone, their kas bound to Arrah now, who is no more a benik. But Rudjek is part Craven and hence, their existence repels and tries to cancel each other. No more kissing and holding hands. The poor boy has to wear gloves just to touch her. Meanwhile, Tamar and the Almighty Kingdom are in chaos. People are divided into magic followers and magic haters. Rudjek’s power hungry dad, the Vizier, is as sly and calculating as before, if not more. Demons are out and about prowling the streets of Tamar, killing and possessing innocents. The tribes are gone and so is Heka. The rest of the pantheon aren’t much help, especially Re’mec. If political schemes aren’t upending Arrah and Rudjek’s lives, magic and demons are.

Meanwhile, the Demon King lurks beneath the surface, waiting for his Dimma, who we know from the ending of the last book, is Arrah’s original birth.

Now, personal opinions. I LOVE this book, albeit begrudgingly because it hurt me too badly. My broken heart is still battered, bruised, and bleeding. Characters reunite, only to be torn apart. As a villain stan/villain+monster fucker, I ship Arrah with Daho more than with Rudjek (sorry kid, nothing personal 😜😜). I loved every bit of interaction they had, including the POV chapters from Dimma tucked in between. For a moment at the middle of the book, I was thrown off this ship, but I roped back in lol. Although Daho is the Demon King, his love for Dimma/Arrah is so pure and genuine, it made me ship them extra hard. I know they won’t be the end game but I’d like to picture that they are 😍😍.

Anyway, this book comes out tomorrow, February 16th. Don’t forget to pre-order (and bulk up some tissues jic).

Thank you, NetGalley and HarperCollins UK, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.