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.
This is not a beautiful book. Because truth is not beautiful. Reality is not beautiful. This book shows you the hard, sharp truth until you bleed inside and turn pale and gray outside and hurt inside and try to stifle tears outside.
Like I did.
This book is painful because the life of a refugee, an immigrant is painful. I won’t label the ending as tragic because reality is not poetically tragic. It’s tragic in the sense that you cannot sense it’s tragic and painful until some time has passed and the numb shock has subsided.
Before reading this book, I prided in the fact that no book has ever made me cry, or at least almost made me cry. E. Lily Yu is the first author who almost made me cry. She came the closest, I swear.
“Telling stories is difficult. Even when you know how they should end. And living’s harder.”
Truly, I did not expect this book to hit me so hard. I’ve gobbled up books in 1-2 days before, but they were always books that gave me such immense pleasure, I was baited and hooked and pulled through. This book did not give me pleasure. It made me hurt with the characters and race through the book until 4:04am because I wanted to see a comparatively happier ending for them. Do they get happy ending? You, the reader, decide. But this book sheds upon us a story not many books dare to attempt; or if attempted, don’t capture the realistic pain and sorrow and the ugliness of it all. The refugee camps. The long journey across treacherous waters on a boatload of people. The struggle to fit in and the hate from the “citizens” of the new country and the gaping hole inside you when you realize you belong nowhere, not even inside your family. No land wants you. No land takes you. You’re forever stranded on treacherous waves where typhoons of grief and sorrow try to drown you again and again. Survival, you don’t get good at. Survival, you attempt again and again until you eventually drown. Water may not be what drowns you, but you do drown. E. Lily Yu drowns her readers, with a sharp deftness uncommon in refugee stories, and while you’re drowned, you see with bitter bright clarity how ugly survival is, yet you cling to it. When you can’t do anything else other than holding on, you hold on. That’s what Firuzeh and Nour and Abay and Atay do. They grit their teeth and hold on through actual typhoons and waves and expired TPV and piles of unpaid, overdue bills and threats of deportation and threats from angry white racists on streets and shunning from classmates and fights at home and struggles for money and death of a family member. They grit their teeth and just hold on and push through. Because if they let go, they’ll drown. They know they’ll drown at some point, but they try to prolong it, to survive and last one more day, or six more months.
This is not an easy book to read and love. Truth and reality never are. But they’re the truth and the reality and so you accept them, little by little, after shouts and cries and curses are out, but you do. Part of the reader me didn’t think I’ll like this story but I eventually loved it.
If you want a fictional story of refugees and immigrants not sugar-coated or glossed with melodrama and unrealistic hope, this is the book for you. I’d heartily recommend it to you, only if you’re truly seeking to read a book like this.
Thank you, NetGalley and Erewhon Books, for the eARC in exchange of my honest opinion.
I’m gonna try something here before I talk about this book. I’m gonna mention five young adult dystopian novels in two rounds and I’ll tell you what they have in common.
THE HUNGER GAMES DIVERGENT THE MAZE RUNNER THE SELECTION RED QUEEN
What do they have in common other than hailing from the same category and genre?
They’re all by white authors, about white protagonists, set in a futuristic dystopian USA/North America.
Now, second round:
WANT REBEL SEOUL WAR GIRLS RISE OF THE RED HAND THE LIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD
The second list of books have BIPoC authors, BIPoC protagonists, and are set in a dystopian world that’s not North America. The second list of books are also some of the bestest dystopian novels I’ve read recently, full of nuances and deeply delved topics not at all explored in the first list of books. We get to see dystopia in the rest of the world. We get to see BIPoC protagonists being the heroic (or antiheroic) center of the stories. We see them kick ass riding gigantic mechas and sporting cyborg limbs. We see them try to bring justice and balance into a chaotic, grim-dark world full of hellish, nightmarish injustice. In these books, hope is beaten to a pulp, in black and blue to the ground until hope pushes back and stands tall and wins the day.
“You can’t wash off the past so easily.”
After the surge the young adult dystopian books saw in the early 2010s, a sucker punch followed and the genre got such a bad rep, nobody wanted to buy and read YA dystopian books anymore. Before the call for diversity started in late 2010s, dystopian died before giving BIPoC authors a chance to write and explore our own characters in them. But seeing the newest, albeit more timid and hesitant, surge coming to dystopian fiction, I’m having hopes.
Because you see, dystopian genre before was heavily authored by and featured white people. Other than two to three series, I cannot name any more series that wasn’t authored by and weren’t about white American protagonists. The books were written in such a way, the worlds in those books only focused on North America. No mention of the rest of the world. As if the rest of the world perished into wasteland and only America survived. I cannot tell you how toxic and problematic this America-centric writing is, especially to readers from the global south.
So it was such a breath of fresh air and relief when I found, in several recent YA dystopian books, settings being not at all North America. I found Seoul and Taipei and Nigeria become the center of the stories. I found Asian and African protagonists storming the center stages.
Finally late last year, I found the Indian subcontinent climb onto the center stage.
I wept in joy inside, I swear to God.
When I heard that Erewhon Books bought a cli-fi dystopia set in grim-dark futuristic Indian subcontinent, my claws grew and ached to get my grips on the book. But I had to wait. So I waited. Impatiently. Desperately.
“But being alive is not always living.”
Last year, around October or November, I finally got access to the eARC of this book I’ve been waiting for so long. But I decided not to rush through. I decided to slow down so I could savor it like you savor a food so delicious you do not want to run out of it and then be left with the hurried experience. So I savored this book for two whole months. I read about 4-5 pages every day, if not more. But I slowed down as slowly as snails and turtles and sloths combined. For an ADHD reader like me, this was not at all easy.
This book wasn’t easy either. Not in the bad sense. More like, it shows you how terribly hopeless and grim and unfair and dark the future can be if we let our earth crawl to the demise it’s being led to due to climate change and global warming, if we allow our corrupt politicians to control our lives and feed us lies until we’re so surfeited with deception, we lose touch with our humanity and conscience and become zombies who will destroy one another just to survive and get to the top. This book was full of all the hard-hitting questions young adult dystopian books have previously either shied away or skirted around. You’ll find little romance here. No love triangle for the protagonist to choose from. No dress rehearsals or charming princes to please. None of that. Here, you’ll find an antiheroine who loves as hard as she loathes. Badass doesn’t even begin to cover what Ashiva is. But she doesn’t lose touch from her humanity. Survival is her number one priority; survival of her own self and those she loves. But that doesn’t mean she becomes the monsters the corrupt government is. Several times she comes close to mirroring them. But a little like Katniss, she has a flat arc, where she possesses the truth from the get go, however, her truth spreads toward the supporting characters, especially Riz-Ali and Taru. Like Katniss to Prim, Ashiva is ready to do anything to protect and survive with her foster sister, Taru. But unlike Katniss, who until her own book 3, doesn’t jump into action to change her world, Ashiva does. She dives headfirst and dives deep until she finds what she’s looking for before she swims back up, victorious and rebellious.
“But the thing is you can’t make yourself a hero. You can’t help being one of you are unlucky enough to have that dumb courage inside you.”
The world here is, again, grim and dark and hopeless and corrupt af. The unfair imbalance you’ll find in this book eerily resembles the stark, unjust contrast between the general populace and the billionaires of our own world; as if a symbolic mirror the author held before the reader, saying “Make of it what you will”. By placing the lustrous and polished Neocities next to the dirty, polluted slums, Ms. Chadha reminds us how in some of the megacities around our world, homeless people sleep on the streets in cold, next to air-conditioned parliaments and mega skyscrapers. The Z fever pandemic in the book just makes our own reality with covid-19 circa 2020 even more realistic and horrifyingly close to becoming real. The setting will grip your heart with its sharp edges, but the protagonists relentless pursuit is like an immunity to the Z fever. They survive and they bring changes to the world too. They don’t stop at living another day, they use the day to topple over the ivory towers. As in the words of Katniss Everdeen,
“If we burn, you burn with us.”
Thank you, Erewhon Books and NetGalley, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
A Dracula’s brides reimagining with queer characters and queer characters only in a polyamorous marriage and lots of sexy times and equal amount overcoming a narcissist partner. What more do you want?
A seductive, sultry novella written in lyrical, dreamt prose, A DOWRY OF BLOOD made me fall in love as soon as I gobbled down the first page. Straightaway, you know the Dracula here (unnamed unlike his partners) is a narcissistic asshole who uses and abuses his partners to his whims. He isn’t the Gary Oldman type Dracula who becomes evil from losing a partner. He is evil before the beginning of this book. And unlike Carlisle Cullen, who “rescues” people dying from undeserving, early deaths, the head of this vampire coven does not rescue his partners from wretched fates, rather punishes them with an eternity chained to him and serving him. You might associate him with either the Dracula from the VAN HELSING movie (starring Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale) and Lestat (Tom Cruise one) from INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE. Like Lestat, he creates another like him out of selfish motives. Like the Dracula from VAN HELSING, his brides are mistreated. His first bride, demure and submissive village maiden Constanta, he lures into immortality with promises of life and vengeance. In return, she loses her name and her memories. His second bride, Magdalena, the politically cunning mistress of a Spanish estate, he beguiles with promises of limitless freedom from a suffocating patriarchal society. His third bride, Alexi, a cherubic starving model from the streets of a revolution-ravaged Russia, he seduces with promises of wealth and prosperity. Thus, he entraps the three into a servitude-like relationship, where he rules them per his whims and abuses.
Don’t worry, though. The book is heady with lots of sexy scenes. Everyone here is bi. Everyone here is a glutton for lust and hedonistic lifestyle. Dracula provides them well, yet his relationship is more draining than fulfilling. The more time passes, the more his partners feel trapped and suffocated. This book doesn’t just explore an abusive relationship. It’s also about overcoming abuse and survivors rising against their abusers and finding their happy endings. Here, love isn’t about chaining, rather setting free. The ending will make you happy, while the rest of the book will make you giddy with steamy and exciting contents. If you’re a fan of Lestat and VAN HELSING’s Dracula and looking for queer vampires in a polyamorous marriage, this is the book you want.
Thank you, Nyx Publishing, for granting me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
At the time I began reading this book, I was in a very dark place in life. I had an eye surgery and quickly after that, the very first breakup and heartbreak of my life. While I was drowning in bitterness and sadness, at one point I swore off all books and other media containing romance and decided, due to my ADHD impulsivity, that romance books are mere fantasies that make us romance readers get unrealistic, sky-high expectations for a life partner and thus, we end up dissatisfied and miserable when our expectations aren’t met. I blamed romance novels for my heartbreak unfairly. But afterward, when I recovered and got loads of sleep and support from friends, I realized how wrong I was.
This book made me realize that. That romance novels do not give the readers, especially the female readers, any harmfully unrealistic expectations, rather they teach us not to settle for anything less than a partner who is, at their core, like Ianthe Lavan. Someone who respects you as an equal, loves you unconditionally, and will do anything for you to make you happy.
Now I want a real life Ianthe Lavan, LMAO.
Anyway, this book was one of the best romantic fantasy I’ve read in recent years. I was quite astonished when both NetGalley and Edelweiss granted me access to the eARC. On top of that, I saw several of my mutuals praising this book and I had to dive in.
Inspired by regency era Europe, the story is set in a world where higher magic is forbidden for women to learn and practice. Instead, when they become adults, they’re married and collared off like broodmares in haggle markets. This is known as the bargaining season, when men and women of eligible age and prospects visit Chasland, the main setting of the book, and court one another until the end of the season, when they either get engaged, or wait until the next season, or stay unmarried (this mostly happens with women).
Our protagonist is 18 years old Beatrice Clayborn, whose family is on the verge of destitution following a devastating business failure. Beatrice, being the eldest, needs to secure a good alliance fast, or else not only her family will face possible homelessness but also her younger sister, Harriet’s future will be ruined too. But in her heart, Beatrice wants to become a Mage, a master sorcerer who has bonded with a greater spirit. She must become one before she is engaged and collared off by her chosen partner, because once you wear a collar you cannot take it off and the collar drains away all the magical abilities a woman is born with. So she scours dilapidated bookshops in search for secret spellbooks in the hopes that maybe one will teach her how to strike a great bargain with a greater spirit, because once you do so, you can never have children and therefore, you won’t be considered a marriage material. Though it can mean pushing her family to destitution, Beatrice would rather be selfish than sacrifice her happiness and magic for good.
Anyway, enter the Lavan siblings; the dashing bachelor Ianthe Lavan being the oldest, while the equally stunning Ysbeta Lavan being the youngest. Both are the centerpiece catches of the season. But Ysbeta secretly desires the same thing as Beatrice, to become a Mage and thus avoid the marriage her strict, ambitious mother has planned for her. Though off to a rocky start, the two girls work together to learn how to summon and bargain with a greater spirit, all the while Beatrice and Ianthe begin to fall head over heels in love with each other.
The theme of the book is plain and simple; women and agency. Like it was and still is, women’s agency in life is explored and discussed at length here. They can’t choose their own life. They’re mere properties, at first of their father, then of their husbands. Even one of the cultures in the book who has a lesser strict hold on women’s agency is still a problematic stance. Women either get a say in their life or they don’t, plain and simple. But for women in this world, it isn’t. I was so happy to see the author explore so many nuances and aspects of this discussion. Female characters from different classes of society and skin color and age were included. Beatrice is white but she is from the middle class, while Ysbeta is a Black girl from the upper echelons of society. We also learn about Beatrice’s mother’s life, how the older woman regret her choices.
The author gives us an aroace character in Ysbeta, who knows what she wants out of her life and that’s not marriage/romance and a domestic life, rather an adventurous life where she gets to explore the world and learn all about lost knowledge of magic. Meanwhile, we also see Beatrice, a character who wants both romantic love and her magical abilities. This is not the sort of books you might have found before where the heroine had to choose either romance or freedom, thus showing that wanting and/or choosing romance in life is weakness. It’s not, at all. Again, we come back full circle to women and agency where woman can choose anything they want. Why must they choose either or?? Why not both?? Why not neither??
Alongside this theme, we also see the author portraying side-by-side healthy and toxic masculinities. We see Ianthe Lavan who may seem a liberal on the outside but still needs to grow and change some of his outlooks. We see Bard Sheldon who, despite getting a flat out rejection from Ysbeta in front of many people, accepts it and still wishes her well in life and moves on without any ill will or schemes. We see Danton Maisonette and Beatrice’s father, portrayals of toxic masculinity who refuse to bend their wills and mindsets until forced absolutely. God, I hated hated hated Mr. Clayborn with vengeance. Though Danton is severely toxic and abusive toward Beatrice, at least he’s not related to Beatrice. He is not her father, he didn’t watch her grow up and flourish into a handsome and talented young lady. Mr. Clayborn did. He’s such a weak ass p****, I hated his gut and if I had my way, I’d have seen him drown and choke from Nadi’s hexes. Through these portrayals of masculinities, we see the truth, that it is not only on women to achieve their liberation and agency. It is on men too. Men need to change their sexist, misogynist outlooks and help women alter the outdated norms of society. Men need to be more like Ianthe Lavan and Bard Sheldon, learn to accept change and rejection and move on, not hold a petty grudge.
Lastly, I wanna talk about the female friendship in the book. We have Beatrice and Ysbeta. An upper class girl being genuine friends with a middle class girl. It was heartwarming to see them bond and respect each other and finally, grow to love one another. Then we had Beatrice and Nadi, the minor spirit of luck. Nadi is shown at first to be a childish, impulsive, fun-loving spirit who continues to make bargains with Beatrice in exchange for tangible experiences, being ethereal and all. But she also grows in the book, starting to genuinely care for and love Beatrice, to the point their friendship makes a lasting impact upon Beatrice’s life. We also see female solidarity in Beatrice and Ysbeta interacting with other female characters, e.g. Beatrice’s tender mother and the snitch of a sister and the understanding maid, then a secret society of sorceresses, then in Ysbeta’s compassion toward a society girl lovelorn after her own brother. All these instances warmed my heart.
Thank you, NetGalley, Edelweiss, and Erewhon Books for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
All PoC cast!! Already established sapphic couple!! Class struggles and privileges on both sides!! An uniquely built magic system where bone shards can reanimate constructs made from animal body parts!!
I was sucked into this book by the description itself. The heir of a revolution riddled island empire has to prove her worth to her skeptic father, who does not trust her to succeed him due to her amnesia. To add salt to the wound, the father prefers the competitive foster brother! So of course, our main protagonist, Lin, goes through all length to get back what she lost and what she risks losing.
Meanwhile, the author also takes us to other characters, four more POV characters who show us different parts and sides of this world. Jovis is a highly skilled smuggler from Deerisland, who tries his best to smuggle and save as many children as he can. Early in his POV we also meet his new animal companion, fox-like Mephi, who’s like the cutest thing in the world! But Jovis also has pains in his life, his wife’s been missing for SEVEN YEARS, and his search so far has been futile. He’s grumpy and the lone wolf type, prefers to work alone.
As if Mephi would let him!!!
And then there’s Phalue and Ranami. Oh my heart! I love these two so much! Unlike Lin and Jovis, they got less chapters and were written in third person POV. Theirs was a tale of love between two clashing classes, the rich and the poor. Phalue wants to propose her girlfriend, while Ranami does not wants to be stuck as a governor’s wife. What I loveeee about their relationship is that unlike a lot of interclass romance, theirs dares to explore the differences and the difficulties of an interclass relationship. Not everything is sunshine and butterflies, or Romeo-Juliet type intense star-crossed romance in such a relationship. You’d have lots of hardships and struggles to understand each other’s stance in life and society. The poor aren’t always struggling and suffering, the rich aren’t always thriving and vibing. Both have the goods and the bads. While Phalue is a governor’s daughter, Ranami was brought up on the streets.
Last but not least, Sand. Her POV. I’m sorry but I’m not really sure about her. With her memories lost, she’s herself lost on a foggy island with other people who’ve also lost their memories. She gets the least spotlight.
The book is a slow building one. It doesn’t have a breakneck pace, if you’re into that sort of books. Until the 75% mark, it’s a slower build that gathers up and piles high all the tension and conflict until bam! It gets toppled and crumbled. Kind of like the crumbling empire, you know 🤔🤔🤔
Anyway, to conclude, this book brilliantly sets up the world and the characters and the conflicts for the following books. The plot twists are stellar. The writing is gripping and riveting. I’m so glad to have been chosen for this blog tour, or how else would I have been able to read this wonderful, gorgeous book? Also kinda miffed that I’ll have to wait one whole year for the sequel and then another whole year for the finale. Can I get a time machine now???
Thank you, Orbit and NetGalley for granting me the eARC and Kate Hecata for this splendid blog tour.
About the book:
In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.
The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.
Andrea Stewart is the daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of places across the United States. Her parents always emphasized science and education, so she spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek and odd-smelling library books.
When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon slayer didn’t pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California, and in addition to writing, can be found herding cats, looking at birds, and falling down research rabbit holes.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear Bangladesh?
Nothing? Not much?
Not surprised. Although a separate country in South Asia, Bangladesh and Bangladeshis are often lumped together with Indians and Pakistanis, as are the other South Asian nations (Google is free, so look up the other nations: Sri Lankans, Maldivian, Nepalese, and Bhutanese). We have our own cultures and identities, as well as a number of talented authors. So, if you’re a reader of Young Adult and/or Middle Grade categories, check out the books below by Bangladeshi authors.
THE GAUNTLET Karuna Riazi
A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.
When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.
Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?
Love Jumanji? Then this book is for you. Set in a steampunk Jumanji labyrinth mixed with Middle Eastern architecture, the book’s setting and story both pull you in (pun intended). Check out my review of this amazing book.
THE BATTLE Karuna Riazi
The game begins again in this gripping follow-up to The Gauntlet that’s a futuristic middle eastern Zathura meets Ready Player One!
Four years after the events of The Gauntlet, the evil game Architect is back with a new partner-in-crime—The MasterMind—and the pair aim to get revenge on the Mirza clan. Together, they’ve rebuilt Paheli into a slick, mind-bending world with floating skyscrapers, flying rickshaws run by robots, and a digital funicular rail that doesn’t always take you exactly where you want to go.
Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mirza struggles to make friends at his new middle school, but when he’s paired with his classmate Winnie for a project, he is determined to impress her and make his very first friend. At home while they’re hard at work, a gift from big sister Farah—who is away at her first year in college—arrives. It’s a high-tech game called The Battle of Blood and Iron, a cross between a video game and board game, complete with virtual reality goggles. He thinks his sister has solved his friend problem—all kids love games. He convinces Winnie to play, but as soon as they unbox the game, time freezes all over New York City.
With time standing still and people frozen, all of humankind is at stake as Ahmad and Winnie face off with the MasterMind and the Architect, hoping to beat them at their own game before the evil plotters expand Paheli and take over the entire world.
Did you love Zathura? Did you love Ready Player One? Then this is the book for you. Set in a sci-fi setting designed by the same villain from THE GAUNTLET, this book follows 12 years old Ahmad, younger brother of THE GAUNTLET’s protagonist, and his new friend, Winnie. If you’ve enjoyed the previous book, pick this one up too.
About the author:
Karuna Riazi is a born and raised New Yorker, with a loving, large extended family and the rather trying experience of being the eldest sibling in her particular clan. Besides pursuing a BA in English literature from Hofstra University, she is an online diversity advocate, blogger, and publishing intern. Karuna is fond of tea, Korean dramas, writing about tough girls forging their own paths toward their destinies, and baking new delectable treats for friends and family to relish. Her dessert of choice is a lemon bar, which always promise a sharp zest of intrigue along with the reassuring sugar of a happy ending.
Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.
But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective.
Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?
This is the first YA contemporary book I found about a queer Bangladeshi girl and it just made me weep when I first read that synopsis in 2018. If you’re looking for a YA contemporary about a queer PoC protagonist, look no further.
ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE Sabina Khan
Zara’s family has waited years for their visa process to be finalized so that they can officially become US citizens. But it only takes one moment for that dream to come crashing down around them.
Seventeen-year-old Pakistani immigrant, Zara Hossain, has been leading a fairly typical life in Corpus Christi, Texas, since her family moved there for her father to work as a pediatrician. While dealing with the Islamophobia that she faces at school, Zara has to lay low, trying not to stir up any trouble and jeopardize their family’s dependent visa status while they await their green card approval, which has been in process for almost nine years.
But one day her tormentor, star football player Tyler Benson, takes things too far, leaving a threatening note in her locker, and gets suspended. As an act of revenge against her for speaking out, Tyler and his friends vandalize Zara’s house with racist graffiti, leading to a violent crime that puts Zara’s entire future at risk. Now she must pay the ultimate price and choose between fighting to stay in the only place she’s ever called home or losing the life she loves and everyone in it.
From the author of the “heart-wrenching yet hopeful” (Samira Ahmed) novel, The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, comes a timely, intimate look at what it means to be an immigrant in America today, and the endurance of hope and faith in the face of hate.
ZARA HOSSAIN IS HERE is a timely book that highlights Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments now rampant all over the USA. Out on April 2021, this book discusses the two issues from the point of view of a Pakistani immigrant teen whose family has been patiently awaiting for their green card to be approved, but one racist classmate’s hatred can ruin everything for her family.
About the author:
Sabina Khan is the author of THE LOVE & LIES OF RUKHSANA ALI (Scholastic/Spring 2019). She is an educational consultant and a karaoke enthusiast. After living in Germany, Bangladesh, Macao, Illinois and Texas, she has finally settled down in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, with her husband and three daughters, one of whom is a fur baby. She writes about Muslim teens who are straddling cultures.
16-year-old Mehreen Miah’s anxiety and depression, or ‘Chaos’, as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can’t bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, ‘the pact’. Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.
As they secretly meet over the coming days, Mehreen develops a strong bond with Cara and Olivia, the only people who seem to understand what she’s going through. But ironically, the thing that brought them together to commit suicide has also created a mutually supportive friendship that makes them realise that, with the right help, life is worth living. It’s not long before all three want out of the pact. But in a terrifying twist of fate, the website won’t let them stop, and an increasingly sinister game begins, with MementoMori playing the girls off against each other.
A pact is a pact, after all.
In this powerful debut written in three points of view, Yasmin Rahman has created a moving, poignant novel celebrating life. ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID is about friendship, strength and survival.
Being neurodivergent myself, the synopsis moved me so much. Mental health and suicide are not easy topics to discuss but the book is written with nuance and sensitiv.
About the author:
Yasmin Rahman is a British Muslim born and raised in Hertfordshire. ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SAID is her first novel. As a child, she wanted to be a postwoman, but decided to settle for being an author. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Hertfordshire and an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University, both with Distinction. Her short story ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’ was published in the Stripes anthology A Change is Gonna Come in 2017, with the Bookseller awarding the contributors a YA Book Prize Special Achievement Award 2018 for commitment to making YA publishing more inclusive. When she’s not writing, Yasmin makes bookish fan art; her designs are sold worldwide on behalf of John Green.
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
This book is so close to my heart. Not only because Adiba is a dear friend of mine and I’ve beta read this book, it’s mostly because this is one of the BESTEST YA contemporary I’ve ever read. Sweet, adorable, heartfelt, charming, and sapphic, it also deals sensitively with heavy themes such as racism, cultural appropriation, homophobia in the desi community, and a queer Bangladeshi girl coming out to her parents and family. With a healthy dose of female friendship and sisterhood, I love love love the scenes between Flávia and Nishat, my OTP.
HANI AND ISHU’S GUIDE TO FAKE DATING Adiba Jaigirdar
Everyone likes Hani Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita Dey. Ishita is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.
Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.
According to Adiba, this book features sapphic romance between a bisexual Bangladeshi-Bengali Muslim girl and an Indian-Bengali queer girl. If you love fake dating, mutual pining, slowest of slow burns, and romantic scenes in rain, you need this book in your life.
Adiba Jaigirdar was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and has been living in Dublin, Ireland from the age of ten. She has a BA in English and History, and an MA in Postcolonial Studies. She is a contributor for Bookriot. All of her writing is aided by tea, and a healthy dose of Janelle Monáe and Hayley Kiyoko. When not writing, she can be found ranting about the ills of colonialism, playing video games, and expanding her overflowing lipstick collection.
COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU Tashie Bhuiyan
In this sparkling and romantic YA debut, 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?
How about another fake dating treat?? This time featuring the school’s residential bad boy who plays piano, a girl who writes poetry, a chaotic girl squad, ownvoices anxiety rep, and a supportive grandma. I’ve been hearing about this book a lot and I’m just dying to read it. It comes out on May 4th, 2021.
About the author:
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.) Her debut novel COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU (Inkyard/HarperCollins) releases on May 4th, 2021.
This book is about healing. This is not a romcom of any sort. It’s a dark book that’s also full of hope and love and warmth. It does not shy away from discussing at length the darkest corners a mind can retreat when traumatized and abused. It’s about scars and wounds too painful to wrap up in bandages and hope it’ll heal on its own.
Healing is not easy. Moving on is not easy. Accepting the jagged edges of yourself is not easy.
I have read romance books centering around healing and trauma and abuse before. But none came so close to my heart as this one. It’s poignant and raw and heart-wrenching and yet, full of love and hope and warmth, as I said above. To heal, you need love from both yourself and others. Nothing can be further from the truth than for Alfie and Alice, two people who have been hurt and traumatized emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Alfie Mack and Alice Gunnersly are polar opposite in life, in personality, in spirit. Where Alfie is sunshine and rainbows and unicorns, Alice is darkness and sharp edges and closed shut doors. Where Alfie is a people person, Alice is a misanthrope. Where Alfie loves chatting, Alice is all silence.
Yet, these two broken souls come together and learn to heal. They meet in a hospital’s rehabilitation ward after their lives have been shattered and flayed by devastating accidents; Alfie by a car accident that kills his two best friends and leaves him with his one leg amputated from below knee, while Alice by a fire accident where her entire left side is burnt badly. Their physical healing cannot be more thematic and symbolic to their emotional and mental healing. They both have put up some thick barriers around their soft, vulnerable cores; Alfie with his pretense sunshine exterior while Alice with her stone cold facade. They both have suffered losses that cannot be simply balmed and patched up. Alfie’s leg cannot come back. Alice’s smooth skin cannot come back. Alfie’s best friends cannot come back from the dead. Alice’s twin brother cannot come back from the dead. Alfie’s late father cannot come back. Alice’s negligible father does not come back. Their losses truly cut you.
But that doesn’t mean they can never heal. Healing is no linear process. There are always stumbles and trippings. But what matters is you get up, you dust yourself off, and you stumble ahead, teeth gritted, pain tolerated, eyes ahead on the goal. Healing is not always upward and forward, it is often one step forward and six steps backward, or three stairs upward and five steps tumbling downward. Even after Alice and Alfie get discharged and back out into the outside world, it is not easy for them. You can heal physically in a hospital ward and get discharged to go home, but that doesn’t mean you’re fully healed. Our most scarred parts are often within, out of sight and hidden. Only if we let others see them do they become visible. But it is not easy to bare your wounds to others, especially those who never have been wounded as you were. But that is a painful, necessary step toward healing, to share with others your pain. It’s said sharing halves pains and doubles joy. Sharing your pain and scars is also courageous. When you share a part of you that can easily to hurt, you’re trusting the person to not hurt you despite given the chance. That is a brave act indeed.
Anyway, the author deserves a round of applause for keeping the book realistic in portraying healing and pain and trauma and what it means to be hopeful despite all the hurt you’ve been through. Through their healing, Alice and Alfie heal each other and learn to heal their own selves by themselves. Sure, asking for help helps. But you also gotta help yourself by daring to ask for help.
So, yes, healing is an act of courage and self-love.
Thank you, NetGalley and Random House UK, for granting me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review.
Disclaimer: The following review will be packed full of spoilers. If you haven’t read the book already, don’t read this review.
Brontë-esque gothic… Folk of the air… Abrahamic diegesis…
Et voilà, UNDER THE PENDULUM SUN!
Seriously though, this book is such a treat. I’ve loved fantasy books about fair folks. I’ve loved gothic fiction with all my heart. I’ve loved and read the two comparatively well-known Brontë sisters. And I’ve always always adored books whose bases have been built solidly upon the Abrahamic tales and events. Being from one of the main Abrahamic religions myself, it makes me sit up straight and gobble up whatever fictions are based on anything remotely related to the Abrahamic religions.
So of course, I stayed up all night devouring this book, hiding my phone’s glow from my parents who occasionally sauntered into the room for various reasons. My eyes are (almost) bloodshot and deprived of sleep but I’m high on this book and I must leave a review as soon as possible.
So what is this book about?
25 years old Catherine Helstone (the surname is a pun) goes to the elusive, mythical faeland called Elphane or Arcadia, to investigate what has become of her older brother (her only living family), the missionary Reverend Laon Helstone, who’s been unresponsive to her letters for quite a long time. Uncommonly close since childhood and grown up in the atmospheric world of the Yorkshire moors, Catherine must unearth whatever happened to her beloved older brother. And when they two are finally reunited, the joy is short-lived, for Queen Mab, the majestic queen of the fair folks, is hot on his heels. The two siblings cling to one another for life, as their lives and sanity are mercilessly tossed and toyed with to the whim of the fair folks.
This book is chock-full of Abrahamic allusions, mostly Biblical ones, as well as literary allusions. Catherine is named after both Catherine Earnshaw, the rebellious protagonist of WUTHERING HEIGHTS, in love with her adopted brother, Heathcliff; as well as Catherine Morland, the naïve protagonist in Jane Austen’s NORTHANGER ABBEY, who explores the titled abbey in search of insidious mysteries she is often warned against, much like our own Cathy here. Meanwhile, Laon is named after the character Laon from Shelley’s poem, THE REVOLT OF ISLAM, where a pair of siblings go against the norms and pays for it dearly. If you’ve read JANE EYRE, you’ll instantly recognize the first meeting scene between Laon and Catherine in the book, as well as the eerie resemblance between their childhood spent in the moors and that of the two sibling lovers in WUTHERING HEIGHTS. At any rate, this book is such a beautiful homage to the Brontë sisters and their gothic tales. You’ll even find a madwoman in the attic (or rather the cellar) chased to the rooftop, a fire that envelops the sibling lovers, and a wizened nurse who looks after the aforementioned madwoman, an unfortunate wife driven to madness by her husband’s selfish cruelty towards her.
Anyway, what pulled me toward this book was the pitch: Victorian missionaries in faerie land preaching God’s words to beings whose existence is dubious according to the Bible. Like in all her other colonial conquests, England sends missionaries to conquer the faeland as well. Never before has anyone mashed the ethereal fairies with the Abrahamic religions and its contents. In most books of faeries, nobody ever tried to explore what would happen if these fantastical beings’ existence was tried to be explained and justified according to Christianity. Jeannette Ng does this. Her excellent way of weaving such a tale has created a unique masterpiece never been done before and I love it to bits!
I’d also like to discuss the similarities we find between Catherine and Laon’s story and the Abrahamic creation myth. While in Islam and Christianity, there is only Adam and Eve and nobody else before or after them, Judaism reminds us of the forgotten existence of Lilith, Adam’s first wife who was created, not from one of his ribs, but from the same clay from which he too was made. But because of her disobedience to submit to Adam, she was cast out like Satan was and Eve was created from Adam’s ribs, the blood of his blood and the flesh of his flesh. Like Adam and Lilith, who are considered siblings in this book, Laon and Catherine are siblings too. But unlike Adam and Lilith, they share the same blood and flesh, almost as if they’re also Adam and Eve. Like Lilith, Catherine refuses to obey her older brother’s orders, be it to return to England in two weeks or not try to decipher the mysteries of the Arcadian castle they’re living in. Like Eve, Catherine pursues knowledge forbidden for mankind, a language of the angels, lost and now found but indecipherable and cryptic. Like Eve, Catherine is pulled toward the forbidden fruits of knowledge. Like Adam following Eve’s suit, Laon is also pulled into this pursuit of forbidden knowledge. But the real forbidden fruit for them is the lust and passionate love they feel for each other. Their sexual and romantic attractions are so intensely passionate that they both seek respite from it, to the point Laon even takes up missionary work to escape the forbidden pull he feels toward the little sister he cannot have this way. And once they do get a taste of this forbidden fruit, they cannot untaste it. They cannot stop themselves and this is their real undoing. And then, in the end, they become Adam and Eve, cast aside from the Eden (which here is the human world) to a foreign, dangerous land where they must stick together to survive and spread God’s words. Their love is forbidden and sinful, yet they cannot survive without each other, no matter what. Their creation myth is so much like Adam and Eve, and yet it is not. The “Eden” they’ve been cast out of is not really an Eden, what with colonialism destroying the world and industrialism and capitalism following suit in that mission of destruction. The “earth” they’re cast into is not the lush earth Adam and Eve were cast into, rather truly the hell that’s never been blessed with Christ’s descent into it; even God does not exert any of His control over it. Like Adam and Eve, Laon and Catherine’s job is to venture into this barren, treacherous territory and spread God’s words and wisdom in it. Like Adam and Eve, they are the only humans in this hellscape. When I say that Jeannette Ng has outdone it, I mean she has REALLY outdone it.
One more thing I’d like to discuss. A lot of readers are repulsed by the inclusion of incest in the book. While their reaction is justified, I’d say the incest was not romanticized at all. It was a necessary, albeit not universally accepted, component of this particular tale. Incest is one of the most unforgivable sins out there and by having a reverend and his devout sister commit such a heinous sin, we are shown even the best among us can be capable of such sins, just as Adam was the best among God’s creation and he and Eve fell from Heaven. Adam and Eve and Lilith and the creation myth, all of it are themes so deeply entrenched at the base of this story, you cannot do justice to this story without the incest inclusion. The incest here is revolting, a sin you cannot forgive and forget, even the Helstone siblings cannot. But by pushing the limits in this area, Jeannette Ng has achieved a masterpiece into existence unlike any other.
Overall, this book is going straight to my all-time favorite shelf on GoodReads. I’d heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves to read books about wicked faeries, gothic fantasy, and Abrahamic diegesis. This is not a book for all, but this is a book that’ll conquer your heart if it is.
I started THE PERFECT WORLD OF MIWAKO SUMIDA at the end of May, taking a small break in between two blog tours. It was supposed to be a break book, a break read, something that’s supposed to cleanse my palate and help me get back onto reading more books for the tour.
Little did I know it’d suck me in like vacuum cleaner and not let me leave until I had to wrench myself out of the book and force myself to go read the book for the last blog tour. But I did not forget Miwako Sumida. As soon as I finished the last blog tour, I rushed back to her, determined to finish the book this time without interruption.
And what a read it was!
Like Goenawan’s previous book (her debut), her sophomore book was equally poignant and heart-wrenching, if not with more depth and subtlety. The deftness with which the author portrays realistic grief and grieving and loss and coping. Cloaked in mystery and secrets, the story saunters ahead, as the characters take you on a relaxing but intriguing journey, both across Japan and inside your psyche. You can feel their loneliness, their sorrows and struggles, their yearnings to love and be loved back and when their love aren’t reciprocated, the shards of their broken hearts slashing wounds deep into their souls.
It hurts and you feel that hurt with them.
The story begins when 21yo college student, Miwako Sumida, leaves Tokyo abruptly and goes to live in a remote mountain hamlet in the countryside. Though she continues correspondence with her best friend and the guy who loves her, soon it ceases before the news of her suicide reaches them. Ryusei, the guy who loves her; Fumi, his older sister; and Chie, Miwako’s best friend. They each take a journey of their own, triggered by Miwako’s death. As Ryusei comes to term with Miwako’s suicide and his unrequited love, Chie comes to term with the meaning behind Miwako’s existence in her life and her own almost invisible and ordinary existence. Meanwhile, Fumi has her own demons to tackle, some from the far past and some recent. The three of them have their own stories to tell, stories about loneliness and struggles in life, not having a shoulder to cry on until Miwako’s appearance and returning to the same loneliness now that she’s gone. Little by little, we learn more about Miwako’s own loneliness, the girl whose ordinariness was so extraordinary, nobody could tell how much burden she carried until it was too late.
This is not a melodramatic book. Its characters are as ordinary as you and me. They can be any regular person you might’ve passed on the streets, or sat on the bus with, or stood in line with at the supermarket, or had been classmates with who never left a lasting impression on you, or even co-workers you only chatted with out of necessity. Yet, they each possess an extraordinary side we don’t see until we get to know them, ride along with them in their journey to self-discovery, and learn to love them slowly. They’re just like us yet very different from us. They’re ordinary yet extraordinary.
Just like all of us.
Personally, it was Chie’s journey that made me relate. The following paragraph, reading it made me feel seen for the first time in my life, for I too am a transparent person. I’m visible yet invisible, seen yet unseen, “the average of the average”. When I read these two paragraphs, I felt seen as if a spotlight fell on me, as if someone finally caught the part of me even I myself could not catch on.
“Transparent people, by all accounts, were normal. So normal, in fact, that they simply tended to fade into the background. If you looked carefully, you could spot them toward the end of the line during school outings, but they would never be last. In class, they sat in the middle, usually near the wall. They didn’t get the nice seats with a view by the windows. They weren’t the best students in the class, but they were doing well enough to pass their exams.
To sum up, they were the average of the average. They got along well enough with a few classmates, but none were real, close friends. They lived a quiet life in high school, college, and later on, in the workplace. They tended to marry each other because others might pull them closer to the spotlight, and they never got used to being the center of attention. They were, after all, almost unseen.”
In conclusion, I’m now a huge huge fan of Clarissa Goenawan. She has hit it out of the park TWICE now with her books. I’m waiting for the hat trick now.