Dryad Vol. 1 by Kurtis Wiebe (Author), Justin Osterling (Illustrator): Review

Genre: Sci-fi, fantasy, cyberpunk, graphic novel, comic

Category: General fiction/Adult: contains nudity and sexual content (+15)

Representation: several characters (lead and supporting) are depicted as POC

Content warnings: violence, death, mild gore

Publisher & publication date: January 5th 2021 by Oni Press

Booklinks: Goodreads🌳Amazon🌳Bookdepository

Rating:2/5

Summary

The Glass family has spent thirteen years hiding peacefully in the sleepy forest settlement of Frostbrook where Morgan and Yale planted roots and raised their twins, Griffon and Rana. But secrets never stay hidden, and the entire Glass family find themselves the target of an unearthly attack on Frostbrook.

Now on the run from Muse Corp., they must flee to the massive city of Silver’s Bay to hide in plain sight. Rana and Griffon find themselves uprooted and answering for their parents’ mistakes. But, they’ll soon find that the past has a way of finding you, no matter where you run.

Review

[Review contains minor spoilers…not that there is much story to spoil]

Dryad was kind of not great. While I understand that this is the first in a series and mostly just an introduction there was very little actual story for most of the comic. The beginning was meandering and took forever to get to the point, barely even grazing the main plot of the series until right at the end. Too much time was spent in the village which in the scope of the comic (this volume at least) felt pointless. The characters were fine if not a bit bland. It felt as if the story took a long time to get to the point, using a lot of time and words to say very little. And while this might be a personal preference the humour was awkward and not that funny.

The art was decent enough but there was a stiffness to many of the facial expressions and pleasant but derivative aesthetic. While I’m glad there was a more conventional and sensible panel structure and use of motion lines (thank goodness!) there was a painful lack of flow between panels and the artist was inept as properly conveying motion and flow in the fight scenes. I kept getting the feeling that panels were missing and a lack of proper visual connections and foreshadowing made it seem like things came out of no where. Every punch seemed to lack any force or weight and every fast moving vehicle seemed to lack momentum. The overall aesthetic and world felt awfully derivative, first the generic d&d-ish pseudo medieval rural European village (which was technically fine since it was meant to be fake) but then the sci-fi high tech city was basically the same setting as blade runner (they wanted to be blade runner so badly) with all the neon signs, Japanese iconography/language (despite not being set in our world), floating holograms of giant naked people in the city. It lacked imagination and frankly blindly copying the aesthetic of blade runner was irksome and pointless. It felt like the artist lacking confidence or imagination fell back into emulating what he thought was a sci-fi city without thinking about why the city would look like that.

Overall

The story was lost beneath all the mess, they seemed to have a lot of ideas but not the focus and competence to communicate them clearly. While I like the mash up of fantasy creatures in a cyberpunk setting where magic and the clash between corporation/ militaristic guilds against anti-tech magic cults the story, art and world was all a confusing mess.

Don’t recommend it personally.

Rating:🌳🌳/5

I received an e-arc from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Route of Ice and Salt by José Luis Zárate: Review

Genre: Paranormal, horror, historic fiction, LGBTQ+

Category: Adult/ general fiction, contains detailed sexual content

Representation: protagonist is gay (mlm), minor characters described as being POC

Content warnings: violence, murder, gore, death, paranoia, homophobia, suicide, references to prostitution of and sex with minors, weird sex dreams involving rats and having sex with the Demeter (the ship) but fleshy, lots of weird sexual fantasies in general

Publisher & publication date: January 19th 2021 by Innsmouth Free Press

Booklinks: Goodreads🌊Amazon

Rating: 3/5

Summary

A reimagining of Dracula’s voyage to England, filled with Gothic imagery and queer desire.

It’s an ordinary assignment, nothing more. The cargo? Fifty boxes filled with Transylvanian soil. The route? From Varna to Whitby. The Demeter has made many trips like this. The captain has handled dozens of crews.

He dreams familiar dreams: to taste the salt on the skin of his men, to run his hands across their chests. He longs for the warmth of a lover he cannot have, fantasizes about flesh and frenzied embraces. All this he’s done before, it’s routine, a constant, like the tides.

Yet there’s something different, something wrong. There are odd nightmares, unsettling omens and fear. For there is something in the air, something in the night, someone stalking the ship.

The cult vampire novella by Mexican author José Luis Zárate is available for the first time in English. Translated by David Bowles and with an accompanying essay by noted horror author Poppy Z. Brite, it reveals an unknown corner of Latin American literature

Review

The language was unexpectedly poetic and a bit dry (that maybe due to it being a translated works). I don’t know why but when I heard it was journey of the Demeter in Dracula but with a gay captain I thaught it would be more campy horror less poignant literary work about sexuality and use of vampirism as a literary metaphor for homosexuality. It was incredibly erotic, which I was oddly unprepared for.

The writing is a bit meandering and the style is similar to a stream of consciousness (being in the form of a personal diary). I found it confusing and difficult to follow at times, often getting lost in the narrator’s tangents.

The captain’s perpetual sexual fantasies in the first half of the novella got a bit repetitive. While I understand the purpose of including them it went on and on. His sexual dreams were bizarre and confusing and a bit gross (like when he had sex with a fleshy version of the ship). Not necessarily a bad thing, just not for me.

The captain’s struggles with his sexuality and fears about it being revealed and finally coming to avvept that his feelings dont make him a monster and aren’t inherently sinful was moving to read.

The actual horror elements like the sailors showing signs of being attacked by vampire, and them dying one by one I found very compelling and suspenseful. In the latter half of the story where the horror came more into focus was far more enjoyable to read.

Personally the best parts were the essays about Zarate and the influence of the novella, vampirism in fiction and as a metaphor of homosexuality. The inclusion of the various authors analysis gave real insights into the novella, the themes and inspiration behind it.

Overall

The Route of Ice and Salt was an ok read with a slow start and an exciting end. I don’t really recommend reading this but if you do mentally prepare yourself for the weirdness.

Raring: 🌊🌊🌊/5

Whisper Me a Love Song 1 by Eku Takeshima: Review

Genre: Graphic novel, manga, romance, LGBTQ+, Yuri, romance, contemparary

Category: YA/ Young adult

Representation: All characters are Japanese, protaganists and possibly some supporting characters are wlw.

Publisher & publication date: October 13th 2020 by Kodansha Comics

Booklinks: Goodreads🎸Amazon🎸Bookdepository

Rating: 5/5

Summary

An adorable new yuri manga for fans of Kase-san and Yamada and Bloom Into You. One day, high school girl Himari sees a girl, Yori, sing in a band, and it awakens feelings she doesn’t understand… but Yori does!

Bubbly, energetic first-year high school student Himari falls head over heels for her senpai Yori after hearing her band perform on the first day of school. Himari tells Yori she’s fallen in love at first sight, and, to Himari’s surprise, Yori confesse that she has as well! But when Himari realizes that she and Yori are feeling two different kinds of love, she begins to ask herself what “love” really means…

Review

ACK! This was so cute I can’t stand it! The art was gorgeous and the characters were adorable! The tone is so light and sweet dfjhafsdkjhasdfkjh! It reminds me of a more romance focused K-ON since it revolves around music and performing. The slice of life aspects of the story is really fun and really relaxing. Although the cliff hanger at the end of the volume made me want to throw my lap top OTL How can it end like that? I’m so upset! I can’t believe I need to wait for it.
The miscommunication and unrequited love aspects of the story were a bit frustrating but the characters were cute and dumb enough that it was endearing instead of annoying.

Overall

Whisper Me a Love Song is heartwarming and adorable! It was an absolute delight to read and I recommend it wholeheartedly!

Rating:🎸🎸🎸🎸🎸/5

I received an e-arc in exchange for an honest review from netgalley

Booklinks:Goodreads🎸Amazon🎸Bookdepository

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: Book Review #DelightfullyViolentTour

Genre: Historic fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, thriller, retelling, romance

Category: Young Adult, YA

Representation: Protagonist is Chinese, major supporting character is a transwoman, major supporting character is queer/mlm, major supporting character who is Korean, several major and minor supporting characters who are POC

Content Warnings: Violence, death, murder, gore, gang violence, physical assault, reference to death of parent (off page/ in the past), abusive parents, references/depictions of drug use and prostitution, possible underage drinking, racism, colonialism

Publisher & Publication Date: November 17th 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Booklinks: Goodreads🗡️Amazon🗡️Book depository🗡️Barnes&Noble

Rating:4/5

Summary

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Review

These Violent Delights is an epic historic fiction filled with action, politics, betrayal, and star-crossed love. Chloe Gong has beautiful poetic writing which instantly teleports the reader into the glitzy and brutal 1920s shanghai with all it’s gang violence, greed and neon lights. Honestly, this was not what I was expecting when I first started reading it, I thought it would be enemies to lovers with monster hunting, and yes, that is there but the story and its world is so much more nuanced and the characters were incredibly complex.

Juliette and Roma must not only deal with the threat of the madness spreading through Shanghai but from threats within their own gang who want to overthrow the heirs and gain power. There is the threat of foreign powers who wish to gain control over Shanghai and the Communist party who are slowly gaining more support. It was spectacular how Chloe Gong managed to explore all these political and moral facets of the characters and the setting. I loved the relationship between Juliette and her cousins Rosalind and Kathleen and Roma and Benedikt and Marshall. Marshall especially was a delight since he added several moments of levity in an otherwise very serious story.

The middle of the book drag a bit for me. I couldn’t quite follow the character’s logic as they proceeded with their investigation and how the information they gathered was relevant to the madness. However the ending was so fast paced and thrilling and incredibly satisfying how everything comes together. However I wouldn’t really recommend it if you are looking for an epic romance and a fun monster hunting romp. These Violet Delights it gritty and dark and there is not so much romance as there is heartbreak.

Overall

These Violet Delights was a beautifully written, cinematic, thrilling ride! The middle was a bit slow but the ending was explosive and exciting! Highly recommend it!

Rating:🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️/5

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour.

Booklinks: Goodreads🗡️Amazon🗡️Book depository🗡️Barnes&Noble

About The Author

Chloe Gong is a student at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and international relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear when “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” is chanted into a mirror three times.

Chloe Gong’s Links:

🗡️Author Website

🗡️Twitter

🗡️Instagram

🗡️Goodreads

Caffeine Book Tours master post of the Book tour Schedule and Give Away for These Violet Delights

Book Tour Schedule

November 17
 B for Bookslut
 Emelie’s Books
 Novels and Nebulas
 The Quiet Pond

November 18
 Chasing Faerytales
 Discover Elysian
 Hammock of Books
 Utopia State of Mind

Blue Period vol 1 by Tsubasa Yamaguchi: Review

Genre: Slice of life, contemporary, manga, graphic novel

Category: Young Adult/ YA

Representation: All characters are Japanese, major supporting character is shown to be gender non-conforming however is not explicitly stated to be gender fluid/trans or otherwise queer

Content warnings: depictions of underage drinking and smoking

Publisher & publication date: October 6th 2020 by Kodansha Comics

Booklinks: Goodreads 🎨Amazon

Rating: 4.5/5

Summary

Winner of the 2020 Manga Taisho Grand Prize! A manga about the struggles and rewards of a life dedicated to art. Popular guy Yatora realizes he’s just going through the motions to make other people happy and finds himself in a new passion: painting. But untethering yourself from all your past expectations is dangerous as well as thrilling…


STILL LIFE

Yatora is the perfect high school student, with good grades and lots of friends. It’s an effortless performance, and, ultimately… a dull one. But he wanders into the art room one day, and a lone painting captures his eye, awakening him to a kind of beauty he never knew. Compelled and consumed, he dives in headfirst–and he’s about to learn how savage and unforgiving art can be..

Review

Blue Period is a manga about art but it’s also about following your passion even if it is difficult and even it isn’t the conventional path. It honestly made me want to cry because I wish I studied art after high school. There is a surprising amount of technical information and advice about art which was overwhelming at times but also really useful. If you like drawing I think it would be really nice to read. I found it very useful haha.

I like the characters, even the minor characters had a lot of heart and depth to them. I was irked a bit by how one of the main supporting characters Yuka-chan was drawn. They had exaggerated features (like long legs) and seemed to be drawn in a somewhat sexualized manner (unfortunately something not uncommon in manga). However they were revealed to be a boy(?) in the omake which confused me more than anything but retrospectively it makes sense since they were shown to wear a mix of the boys and girls’ uniforms.

Overall

Blue Period is filled with gorgeous art and a lot of love. I highly recommend it. It’s not very exciting, but it’s a sweet, moving and sometimes poignant slice of life manga about art and following your passion.

You’ll love it if you are interested in art or are thinking about pursuing art education further. It had a lot of tips and made me want to practice still lives and start an art diary and inspiration scrap book.

Rating: 🎨🎨🎨🎨/5

Zeelam by Navin Weeraratne is a misery to read: Rant Review

Genre: Science fiction, horror, thriller

Category: General fiction/ adult

Representation: characters are all Sri Lankan, Muslim supporting character, minor supporting characters and references to Tamil and Muslim character

Content Warnings: murder, violence, gore, cannabalism, rape/sexual assault, racism, Islamophobia, references/descriptions of domestic violence

Publisher & Publication date: (self published via amazon) May 5th 2018

Book links: Goodreads☣️Amazon

Rating: 1.5/5

Summary

Sri Lanka is on the edge of a mosquito-borne, zombie apocalypse.

An army zombie hunter and an NGO infection inspector struggle against the increasing, daily outbreaks in Colombo. They discover that the ‘Zees’ have a secret: one they could use to overwhelm the entire city.

Yet before they can fight the zombies, they must first overcome a panicked social media blackout; the ugliness of unchecked Sinhala-Muslim violence; and the corruption and stupidity of their own government.

By gun and blade they must somehow save their city – but first, they must save themselves.

‘Zeelam’ is a Sri Lankan zombie apocalypse story. Sri Lankan and Diaspora readers will appreciate the local flavor – and also the quite local problems. International fans of the genre may find these touches perplexing, but will find the mosquito-driven spread of the disease of interest, as written from the perspective of a native of a country actively fighting a mosquito-borne, dengue epidemic.

Review

Let me start with the positives;

It was a good effort considering it is a self published novel. The writing was readable and there were only a few spelling and grammar mistakes. The concepts were interesting and the writer clearly done research into diseases. The best part about Zeelam was how mercifully short it was.

I found all the references to places and things in Colombo endearing at first but it grew annoying. Weeraratne’s writing has a gossipy, petty vibe of an Ashok Ferrey story and seems to think mentioning the brand of something is sufficient as its ONLY description. The environment was described by the roads and neighborhood names but not what the buildings looked like or what colour a car was or if it was near the beach or in a suburb. If I didn’t live near and frequent the parts of Colombo it took place in I’d have no idea what he was talking about.

The core plot and story was interesting but unfortunately butchered by poor execution. Of the main perspectives one was of a scientist whose sole purpose was to dole out exposition dumps. It should have been done in a more interesting wat which was not so detached from the rest of the story.

Weeraratne ignores the show don’t tell rule, seems to think a story with social commentary is to have the characters rant about how awful and racist society is with all the subtlety and nuance of a jackhammer. Considering most of the the main characters where privileged upper middle class Sinhala non-Muslims I found it annoying and pretentious. Would having a character who is a minority and who actually had experienced prejudice and discrimination talk about it or be a pov character be too far beyond the capabilities of the author?

The writing, while readable came off amateurish and filled with cliché. The violence and gore was excessive. The descriptions were long and detailed yet ineffective and banal. I was neither entertained, shocked or disgusted. If you want to read a story with well written stomach-turning gore may I recommend Mari’s Dance by S. R. Jones and Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark. Both made me physically gag while reading.

The characters were fine if not a bit annoying. The story gets a bit ridiculous near the end however which made me question whether the whole book was a joke and I was not meant to be taken seriously at all. A character starts to use a Katana to kill zombies! It is mentioned it was made at Anim8 (which is a print shop) which I hope was the character joking because now whenever I see the Anim8 sign I get traumatic flash backs of this tripe.

There were several things I found irksome or straight up offensive. The “humor” which I didn’t personally find funny was often mean spirited and punches down. Real macho masc bro jokes. There was also a part where a scientist (who is a woman) claims “It is women, more than men, who enforce the Patriarchy in Sri Lanka. Between the epidemic of domestic violence and a culture of trying to conceal it… “

I found this particularly quote to be blatant victim blaming. While women do play a part in upholding the Patriarchy it is men who primarily enforce and benefit from it. It maybe true that women often choose to stay with their abusive partners because of lack of support, lack of resources to leave, fear, and societal pressure to push more of the blame on women and not the Patriarchal systems of power is awful.

This feels more exasperating since later on a man is protected by the system from receiving punishment for his act of brutality towards a women by his male superior 🙄

The footnotes and references were annoying and incredibly pretentious considering this is a speculative fiction story! Most of the references were links which are pointless in a printed book unless Weeraratne expects the readers to manually type out the html. None of them followed the proper academic format, which I think, would be the minimum requirement if you were going to be so obnoxious to include references in a fiction book.

Overall

I took months between reading Zeelam and posting this review because I wanted to post a positive review of a Sri Lankan book first to prove to myself and others than I am not a heartless bitter person and that I actually go into books by Sri Lankan authors hoping they will be enjoyable. Alas all attempts failed 😭. I suspect it is because I read these books because they are by Sri Lankan authors not because it is a genre I usually enjoy or a story I would pick up otherwise 🤔 I did purchase an ebook of another of Navin Weeraratne’s books to see if I would enjoy reading a story of his that is more my taste i. e. a western on an alien planet where they are searching for a missing scientist.

I wished I liked Zeelam more. The concept behind the zombies were all things I loved. Maybe it is because I prefer more personal stories with well written characters rather than army heavy apocalyptic stories.

I wouldn’t recommend it but you can probably get some enjoyment if you read it as “so-bad-it-is-good” way.

It a mix between if Ashok Ferrey and a teenage boy who watches a lot of anime and thinks welding more weapons at once makes your character more bad ass wrote a zombie novel. If that appeals to you maybe borrow it from a friend or read it at the bookshop. It doesn’t have cute cover so idk if it’s worth spending to decorate your bookshelf.

Rating: ☣️/5

Book links: Goodreads☣️Amazon

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark: Review

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, historic fiction

Category: Adult/ General fiction

Representation: All main/major characters are Black, a main supporting character is a lesbian (or at least sapphic/ wlw), minor supporting character is Jewish

Content warnings: murder, death, gore/mutilation/body horror, violence, racism, white supremacy, racial violence, religion used to justify racial violence, references to hate crimes/ murder/ lynching, hanging/lynching, trauma, PTSD, grief, death of parent/family member, use of the n-word and racial slurs, reference to off the page rape of character’s mother, references to animal abuse, references to antisemitism

Publisher & publication dates: October 13th 2020 by Tordotcom

Booklinks: Goodreads👄Amazon

Rating: 5/5

Summary

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror.

D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.

Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she’s not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she’s fighting monsters she calls “Ku Kluxes.” She’s damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh–and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.

Review

I almost can’t put into words how beautiful, horrifying, disgusting and powerful this book is. Ring Shout weaves together history, folk lore, magic, while having a thought provoking and painful discussion about racism in America and the trauma and grief Black people experience as well as their continual oppression.
Ring Shout is set in the 1920s Macon Georgia following Marsye and her rag tag group who hunt horrifying monsters hidden within the KKK.

Honestly, I don’t know what to say, any praise I can muster is insufficient. This is brutal and breathtaking and it would be a disservice to the book and yourself if you don’t read it. There is magic and body horror, monsters and action, mystery and gore and joy even in the darkest times. And there is love, so much love between the characters, for each other, for their families for their histories and for their futures. The hate and fear and grief and hope feels like a punch to the gut.

It’s difficult to summaries the plot because it’s complex and chaotic and also I tried explaining it to my friend and it only confused her terribly haha. But honestly it’s an absolute rollercoaster and completely wild but while reading it I was never confused or lost.

Overall

Ring Shout is hands down one of, if not the best fantasy book I’ve read. I couldn’t stop reading yet often I felt so overwhelmed that I couldn’t keep reading. Absolutely, a 100% recommend reading Ring Shout!

Rating:👄👄👄👄👄/5

I received an e-arc in exchange for an honest review from netgalley

Fly High by Kamani Jayasekara: Review

Publisher & publication date: S. Godage and Brothers, 2020

Booklinks: Godage Books

Rating: 2.5/5

Review

Fly High is a collection of poems by Kamani Jayasekara spanning topics from politics, education, relationships, love, family, Sri Lankan culture and wildlife. She has very clear opinions and deeply caring which she eloquently expresses under the constraints of a short poem.

However I question whether verse is truly the best format to do this. While I do think she is successful in expressing her messages most of the poems lack artistry in my opinion.

They don’t leave a great impact or make me think or have a lovely turn of phrase or metaphor to appreciate. And often when the poem is done masterfully the thesis of it is unceremoniously stated at the end, with little room for personal interpretation or analysis. Maybe more restraint or trust in the reader to understand the message would be better. Is a metaphor or symbol successful if it needs to be drawn attention to and explained?

To be honest it was fine, really, but not memorable. I feel Jayasekara could have spent more time developing the poems so it felt like more than her expressing her opinion or relating a story or writing a diary entry in clumsy verse.

A subject which she discussed several times was the modern attitude towards grades in higher education and university students protestings. She is obviously very well versed in this and cares deeply about the students. Maybe an essay or short story would have been more ideal? That way it could have been discussed and explored more thoroughly.

I quite liked the poems “HELP!!”, “Ashes to Ashes” and “Joy!! Oh Boy!!” but then there were poems like “The Boast” which was frankly a bit silly.

There were several poems I enjoyed but I didn’t find the collection remarkable.

Overall

Fly High was ok. I wouldn’t personally recommend it or return to any of the poems but others will surely enjoy them, especially if you are interested in Sri Lanka University and academia.

Rating:🦉🦉/5

Amulet by Punyakante Wijenaike: Review

Genre: Fictional memoire, historic, literary fiction

Category: Adult/ General fiction

Representations: All characters are Sri Lankan

Content warnings: abuse, depression, sexism/misogyny/ internalized misogyny, marital rape, domestic abuse, miscarriage, murder, incest, infidelity, child abuse, pedophilia/molestation described several times, trauma, PTSD, death of a parent, suicide

Publisher & publication date: Published by Punyakante Wijenaike in 1994, S. Godage & Brothers in 2017 (7th edition)

Booklinks: Goodreads ☹️Sarasavi

Rating: 1.5/5

Summary

The story is woven around the life of Shyamali, a young unspoiled aristocratic lady from the Up Country and her married life with Senani, a mysterious young man from the South. The rather bizarre story takes its own course unraveling mystery of an incestuous relationship between Senani and his sister Anula whose indomitable spirit rises up through the old parchments of a tattered diary with startling records of her relationship with her brother leading up to the mysterious death of Anula.

Review

My copy of The Amulet had an introduction which discussed the books influence and impact on English literature in Sri Lanka. I do not recommend reading it before the story if your copy contains it as well as it spoils the whole plot and plot twists of the story!

There is a distinct and familiar sri lankan-ness to the story. The spirituality and rituals which is a part of the culture does not comfort the protagonist like it does most people.

When I described the story to my mother she was very unsympathetic to the protagonist’s situation. “My mother and grandmother had it far worse,” she said. “They too were not allowed to finish their education but had worse marriages. She has rich people problems. Unlike most women she is comfortable and doesn’t have to work.”

The Amulet contains conventions of the Gothic Romance style and shares striking similarities to Rebecka by Daphne de Mauria.

The narrative is the protagonist thinking over her life and her marriage so there is a blurring of chronology. Often scenes are repeated or related things are recollected out of time. It was a bit confusing at times and the repetition of description and passages was at times boring. There were also a couple of inconsistencies. I’m not sure if it is meant to show the narrator is unreliable or it is simply a mistake.

The suffering and misfortune the protagonist experiences is very realistic to what many in her generation and social class experienced. My grandmother abd great grandmother too were not allowed education, were married young and married to abusive men which lead to bad marriages. Still it was sad to read, the casual tone with which it is relayed emphasise how common and accepted things like infedelity and domestic abuse was.

Yet at the same time it felt these were no handled with the proper care and sympathy. At some points it seems almost grotesquely like trauma porn, as the family secrets are revealed it feels like it is meant to shock and entertain and explain like a cruel soap opera plot line.

There is a morbid feeling of resigning to ones fate, a sense of hopelessness and a feeling of being trapped.

While an interesting story and is a certain lack of eloquence in the writing as well as formatting mistakes and spelling issues (the later being more the fault of the publisher than anything). On one hand the simple language makes the story more accessible yet the repetition of metaphors and description made the writing monotonous. The writer attempts to evoke powerful, naturalistic imagery and thematic parallels in the story yet was done in such an overt and ham fistedly it lost its effectiveness. Some restraint, subtlety and variation would have helped. (I understand repetition is a valid literary device yet it was not done well here) I was at times unsure if it was intentional or simply poor editing.

I want to discuss this book with someone who studied the text properly so I can find out if certain things are intentional or simply poor writing/editing

I found the protagonist endlessly frustrating. Maybe due to her dependency on her husband or Stockholm syndrome she never blames him for his abuse and constantly wishes to save him. 🙄🙄 It would have been tolerable if she didn’t have the same thoughts over and over about how she has to confront him and has to do something but doesn’t actually do anything for ages. So it’s just frustrating! Most of it feels pointless.

The pov shifts to her husband Shenani about 70% of the novel. Only a few nuggets of new information is introduced, otherwise it is simply a repetition of the same events as before except we learn his abusive behaviour was all intentional used to control her. His thoughts are incredibly cruel and misogynistic which makes reading the same events awful in addition to being boring. Like the other pov, he has the same thoughts over abd over and over.

The ending was open ended. The confrontation that has been set up from the very beginning, alluded to throughout the story never happened! What was the point then?? This could have easily been a short story. Even then there was no climax or any sort of resolution. It just sort of stops? What bs is that?

The constant references and descriptions of marital rape, incest and pedophilia/being molested as a child was unnecessary. There was too much and could be very triggering or plain upsetting. It felt at times the author was trying to make the story dark for the sake of being dark. The dark themes and topics were never really explored and seemed to be simply used for their shock value and to give the dark love interest a tragic backstory.

Overall

The story has some merits. I think the descriptions of Sinhala and Kandian culture and customs were described well and accurately. The characters, the child parent relationships and the terrible abusive arranged marriage was believable enough. The plot meandered and went no where. The amount and explictness of rape, incest abd chuld abuse was unnecessary and handled without care or respect which felt gross.

I don’t recommend reading The Amulet. Please read literally anything else instead.

Rating:☹️/5

Booklinks: Goodreads ☹️Sarasavi

And Then Came Trouble: Short Fiction

This is a short story kind of I wrote while feeling a bit intense (idk how to explain it better) I was listening to Boy in the Bubble by Alec Benjamin and this story came spilling out. It was done with zero planning and only a bit of editing 😅

Pitch: two boys who hate each other start dating.

There are some problematic/toxic elements in the story so be aware. Also this story is m/m and since I am not, idk, I suck I guess. I felt like posting this since I liked the writing and this is more violent and intense than what I usually write (which is more soft and pinning) plus I don’t intend to do anything more with this like making it longer or developing it more.

Tropes: enemies/rivals to lovers, secretly dating, I like you so much I hate you

Content warning: violence, bullying, refrences to homophobic bullying, internalised homophobia, assault

1

It tasted like blood when we kissed. In the stifling heat of the locker room which smelled like sweat and cheap deodorant, under flickering lights he kissed me until I forgot how to breathe.
He was bleeding from his nose because of me and I had a split lip because of him.
The fight was short, his fist hit me like the crack of a whip. I punched him back on reflex, it was the first time I punched anyone. My body shook with adrenaline, my heart racing and I couldn’t think straight. My right hand was numb and I couldn’t move my thumb after but it was worth wiping the smug look off his face.
The coach broke us up before either of us could get another hit in. I was told to make sure he went to the nurse’s office and that we’ll probably get suspended for fighting in the middle of gym class.
It was all his fault-that prick. We never made it to the nurse’s office, he ducked into the locker room and I followed after. He was probably going to skip class if not skip school anyway and I was still heated.
He tore his gym clothes off and shoved on his jeans.
“The fuck do you still want,” he snarled wiping his nose, smearing blood all over his face.
“If you ditch you’re going to get in more trouble.”
“Too bad I don’t give a shit,” he spat, slamming his locker shut. His shirt was tight in his balled fist and he would have walked out into the hallway bare chested if I didn’t grab him by the arm.
“We need to go to the nurse. You’re still bleeding all over the place. And I’ll get in trouble if you don’t–”
His hand around my neck, he slammed me against the exposed brick wall.
“Leave me the fuck alone.”
That really pissed me off. “Leave you alone? You’re the one who’s always glaring at me, calling me a loser and taking any chance you can to argue and start with me.”
“You act so high and mighty but you have everything handed to you.” His mouth contorted into a grimace but in his eyes I thought I saw a flicker of sadness. “I hate you and your stupid face. You think you are some shit because you are a bit smart and have a girlfriend. Everything about you pisses me off.”
“Is that what it is? You’re jealous! That’s why you’re acting like a fucking child throwing a tantrum?”
“Why would I be jealous of your dog faced girlfriend?”
“Fuck off, leave Yvonne out of this.” I struggled against his hold but he just slammed me against the wall again, his fingers just below my jaw tilting my face up. I balled my hand into a fist and tried to punch him but he grabbed me by the wrist, pinned me down and kissed me.
I was stunned at first, how sudden it was, how hungrily he kissed me. He ignored how our teeth clashed and pressed into me, desperate and violent. His hand left my neck and ran through my hair, I found myself clawing at his back, sticky with sweat.
When he pulled away he looked shocked, his face paled. He grabbed his t-shirt which had fallen on the floor and ran out.
I didn’t dare go after him. I washed my face, erasing all the traces of him off me. I got detention instead of getting suspended. My thumb was sprained and the nurse said I was lucky it didn’t get broken. He didn’t show up for any of the afternoon classes. I sat in detention alone doing homework.
The school bus was gone so I had to walk twenty minutes to the bus stop in town to take the public one. Only to see my bus drive away as I walked towards the stop- which meant I needed to wait another half hour for the next one. I considered walking the four miles home but then I was yanked by the collar of my jacket and dragged into the pharmacy parking lot. It was empty except for discarded cigarettes, a broken shopping basket, an oil puddle and the two of us.
His nose was no longer bleeding but there were brown stains on his shirt where blood dripped on it.
“Did you tell anyone about what happened?” he glared at me but I was only a little bit intimidated since I had something on him.
“Tell them what? That you’re gay?”
He grabbed my collar so hard my top button flew off. “Fuck! If you told anyone I’ll-”
“Calm down. I didn’t tell anyone,” I snapped pushing away his hand. “I think you’re an asshole but I wouldn’t out someone damn.”
He let me go. Visibly relieved, the fire inside him dissipated which only left awkwardness between us.
I knew I should walk off now but curiosity got in the way. He’d been a pain in the neck for weeks so I was sure he’d hated me- at least that’s what I thought until today. “Why’d you kiss me?”
His face turned red and he frowned like an inbred bulldog. “If you tell anyone about it I’ll kill you,” he warned and turned on his heels, stalking off and going into the pharmacy.
I followed him in since I had a couple minutes to spare until the bus came.
He got aspirin and a bottle of water, I got iced tea and a kitkat. He went to pay and I put my things next to his. He bristled like an angry cat, he opened his mouth to shout at me but I shut him up by paying for the both of us.
“An apology for that,” I said pointing at his swollen face. He eyed me suspiciously but didn’t say anything else about it. I knew he was living with his sister in a small flat, he didn’t have much money.
He trudged off while I was still putting the change back in my wallet. I caught up to him as he was crossing the road.
“We still have detention tomorrow. If you skip you really will get suspended,” I shouted after him.
He flipped me off from the other side of the road but I could swear I saw him smile a little.

2

The next day I barely saw him even though most days I’d feel the heat of his glare or see him in my periphery. We shared three classes and I saw him enter all of them after me. He sat in the corner right in the back, as far as he possibly could away from me and Yvonne. He was probably embarrassed or trying to pretend what happened yesterday didn’t happen. Maybe he thought that’s what I wanted as well.
“Are you looking for someone?” asked Yvonne during lunch. We sat on the courtyard steps beneath the shade of a lemon tree. The speckled sunlight and her freckles made Yvonne look like an impressionist painting.
I shook my head. I kept my eyes away from her in case she saw my lie, in case the smile that itched to perk my lips I forced to be straight.
“I saw him being told off by the vice principal earlier for skipping school and punching you,” she said. I could feel her observe me like an anthropologist trying to study my reaction and see what secrets I’d reveal.
I silently ate my sandwich and studied the crack beneath my shoe. She huffed and went on, bored by my lack of response.
“I can’t even imagine you punching someone, but I get why you did it. He’s such an asshole always walking into you on purpose and sneering at us.”
I shrugged. “It’s not a big deal. It was worse earlier.”
In my previous school I was picked on mercilessly by my taller, richer, more arrogant classmates because I was short and didn’t try so hard to hide I was gay.
Yvonne knew. She realized the instant she met me. Her ‘queer intuition’ she called it. Something subtle and unconscious, a special power we had to find each other. Yvonne had a long term, long distance girlfriend who lived in another continent who she met online.
“It doesn’t matter if it was worse then. You shouldn’t have to go through it at all. And it’s unfair that you’re getting punished even though it is all his fault.”
“It’s not all his fault,” I muttered.
“What do you mean?”
“I said something I shouldn’t have. Something that pissed him off.”
She blinked at me, surprised and disappointed. “Why did you do that? You should know better.”
Her opinion of the situation had sifted. She was right to be fair, I did know better considering how the same insults had cut me so deeply in the past.

I went to class room D16 after school. To my surprise he was there. His bag was on the floor beneath his desk and he was sitting slouched on the chair. It didn’t look comfortable. He glanced at me when I entered but didn’t turn to look at me or move to greet me or acknowledge me in any other way. I sat near the window, two tables between us.
Mr. Thames the languages substitute teacher was supervising us. He was barely older than us and if he was wearing a uniform he could have passed for a student. He was the principal’s nephew who had graduated with a degree in Italian last summer and everyone who he taught thought it was a terrible teacher but liked that they let them do whatever they wanted. He taught German mostly since Mrs. Barnes was on maternity leave.
I did my math homework, or struggled to do so. With the bandages around my hand and my immobilised thumb I held my pencil in my fist like a toddler and my numbers came out slanted and barely legible.
The room was silent except for the pings of message notifications from Mr. Thames incoming messages. Fifteen minutes in his phone rang and he went outside to answer it. I guessed from the cooing nature of his voice that he was talking to his girlfriend.
He sighed loudly which sent shivers down my neck. The chair creaked when he slumped forward, lying his head on the desk with only his crossed arms to cushion him.
“Are you feeling ok?” I asked.
He ignored me.
I gave up on my homework and stuffed it back in my bag and found the kitkat from yesterday. It was deformed and a bit melted since getting lost in the depths of my backpack. I got up and walked to him. He continued to ignore me but I noticed his shoulders twitch at the sound of my footsteps.
“Do you want to share this with me?” I asked.
He lifted his head and watched me with suspicious eyes. Like a wild animal watching from the woods.
“It’s broken,” he said.
An awkward laugh escaped from inside my stomach “So? It’s still edible.”
He sat up straight (straighter?) and waited for me to open the wrapping and give him half. I went back to my seat and we ate in silence. He licked the melted chocolate from his fingers and I felt my face grow warm.
“Thanks,” he said, his voice low and slow. “For paying for me yesterday as well.
His words made my chest tight. “No worries.”
We spent the rest of detention in restless silence. Mr. Thames was still talking to his girlfriend when he popped his head into the room to tell us to leave. He grabbed his bag and rushed out before I could even get up. When I reached the bus stop he was waiting there even though he didn’t take the bus.
“Give me your number,” he said holding up his phone. It was an old model, the clear phone protector had turned a foggy yellow and there was a large crack across the screen.
“Why?” I asked.
He let out a huff, his brows furrowed and he grumbled. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“No, no. I’ll give it to you. It’s fine.” I said quickly, taking his phone and thumbing in my number. My bus rolled up before I could get his. I said goodbye as I jumped onto the bus, my heart racing. I held a breath on my chest and a lump in my throat and waited giddily for a call or text from an unknown number.
I got a text at nine pm which was simply “this is Elias”
So I replied “Good to know ;)”

3

He was an irritation from the moment I saw him. An intangible discomfort, an itch I ache to scratch raw. He was the buzz of a fly in my ear, a stain that persistent no matter how much I washed it. Annoying, insignificant, impossible to ignore.
West transferred two weeks into the winter semester. He was new but not new. Several people knew him already, he had gone to elementary with them or lived in the same neighbourhood or something boring like that. Rumours spread like a viral infection of him getting kicked out of his fancy college for doing drugs or cheating on exams.
It was all bullshit. I could tell he was too much of a wimp to dare do anything like that. Worse was I would keep seeing him, keep noticing him. He was a mote in my eye. West oozed pretentiousness, like he knew how smart and rich and privileged and good looking it was. I decided it was fine to hate him. The universe was so kind to him let my disdain be the one drawback of his privilege.
Yvonne befriended him the first chance she got despite her giving few other guys the time of day. She was conventionally attractive but attainable which meant half the boys in the grade had a crush on her, which meant that since West was always around her half the boys disliked him. I was secretly chuffed.
Everyone knew they were dating even though they denied it. It bothered me how easy it was for him. The world was unfair. His existence was taunting me constantly.
I hate him.
I hate him.
It was all his fault.
He was an allergic reaction. His voice would send a zing down my back and make my ears burn. An invisible, unreachable itch.
I didn’t care.
I didn’t notice me.
I was so far beneath him for him to even acknowledge him.
The prick, I hate him.
The first time he spoke to me was when he bumped into me in the hallway and mumbled an apology.
I’ve seen him run into a door and apologize with more heart.
He ignored me. We’d pass in the hallways, in class, on the road, and he’d never even notice me. Never acknowledge my existence. He was in a different world, a higher plane. I was a ghost, forgotten, buried, rotted away.
Look at me.
Look at me.
You aren’t better than me.
It started slowly. Small actions. A sarcastic huff or eye roll when West spoke, walking into him not on accident p, sitting behind him in class rather than at the back of the class.
It gave me childish delight. I hated myself for being so petty but the thrill was addictive. The way his eyes flickered with something like contempt.
Sound was better than silence. Pain was better than numbness.
To my delight, West stepped up to my teasing. His words bit back. A snide comment beneath his breath, a smug smile when I got scolded for being late, he’d click his tongue when I came into class.
It was a game.
A duel, a dance.
He looked at me with contempt which was better than not looking at me at all.
Ah, but his actions only encouraged me.
Like tripping down a hill, my momentum only grew. My actions became rougher, my words became sharper.
His attention was liquor, I drank and drank but only grew more parched. My head became foggy.
It took me longer than it should to realize my anger was really jealousy and my jealousy was actually attraction. I’d stare at his lips when he’d call me a twat. The pink of his ear was distracting. His hair glistened like spools of gold in sunlight.
When he bent down to do sums in maths I stared at his exposed neck and resist the temptation to draw my name on his skin with my nail. For the letters to swell up in red against his pale flesh. I wanted to mark him. So he’d see it and think of me. So he’d carry me with him constantly.
When he got a paper cut in chemistry, a single red drop beaded on his finger. My legs grew weak, limp with the fantasy to lick it.
What did he do to me?
Why did I like him?
Why did I make him hate me?
If I had been kind from the start would it have been different?
Would I not have punched him? Would he not have hit him back.
Alone and exposed in the locker room. I needed to escape. My mind was dizzy with the pain, my judgment impaired. His bleeding lip looked so tempting.
I wanted to lick it, to kiss him, to eat him.
He watched me change and my body was on fire. I couldn’t leave fast enough, could move fast enough. It was hard to breath, hard to think.
I hate him.
I hate myself.
I slammed him against the wall.
It was his fault.
He should leave me alone.
He shout be quiet.
This was a nightmare, a delusion.
I kissed him. I shouldn’t have.
I’m an idiot. I was weak.
I regretted it. I didn’t.

4

Elias and I lied to each other and ourselves. We should meet up to study, I said, teach him the lessons he missed when he skipped. He suggested I come to his flat since it would be quieter. His sister was working on Saturday, we would be alone. We agreed to do math homework together. I didn’t even bring my calculator.
I expected his flat to be small but I was still surprised. The kitchen and living room was one open space. His sister’s bedroom was separate but his bedroom was half the living room partitioned off with a cheap IKEA bookshelf. The space was barely enough for his single bed.
I sat on the couch, the faux leather peeling at the slightest touch. He offered to get me something to drink but he only had water and instant coffee and store brand tea. I should have brought something with me. I said water.
He sat down beside me, our shoulders touched. My face grew hot as I watched his fingers crawl to my hand to hold it. I turned to him and we kissed.
This time it was soft and hesitant. It was gentle and timid.
I felt his warm, bated breath.
This time I was the one who pulled him closer.
Time melted away.

I told Yvonne about it on Monday, about Elias, about the birthmark that bloomed across the bottom of his ribs. How he had joked it was a scar from where his bone was taken to make me. I wasn’t sure if he was religious. I didn’t see a bible but I saw poetry books between the textbooks on his bookshelf. All of them looked worn, the pages curled. I traced my hands over the spines when he talked to his sister on the phone. She checked up on him during her break where she worked as a nurse in a care home for the elderly, he’d told her a friend was coming over.
Yvonne was neither amused or impressed. She still didn’t like him, if I was in her position I’m sure I would be the same. She grimaced when she saw the burgundy bruise on my neck and made me button my shirt all the way up to hide it.
I said doing so would make it even more suspicious and she accused me of wanting to show off.
She said it was a bad idea. She was probably right.
She said it will only end badly. She was probably right.

End