A Consuming Fire – Laura E. Weymouth — out Nov 22nd

This was the first book I read by Laura Weymouth and I immediately wanted to read more after finishing it. While initially given the premise (a girl seeking to avenge her sister’s sacrifice to the god in the mountain) and Weymouth’s previous novel The Light Between Worlds riffing off Chronicles of Narnia, I thought it would be more in dialogue with C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces than it turned out to be, it did not disappoint in any way.

Anya grows up in an isolated village where girls are raised for sacrifice to the god. Her sister volunteers to be the sacrifice in their generation, leaving Anya feeling like a coward. While the girls usually survive the ordeal and are left with some disability as a result, Anya’s sister Ilva perishes shortly after her return to the village, telling Anya to stop the sacrifices.

Meanwhile, a new sacrifice is soon needed as the god’s wrath begins to stir, unappeased by whatever happened with Ilva. Anya volunteers to travel across the country to the mountain as the new sacrifice, but her secret intent is to kill the god and end this brutal system once and for all.

What the book turns out to be in dialogue with is the discussion of abuse in church settings. Like many a victim of abuse by a spiritual leader, Anya and Ilva are raised believing their duty as women involves obedience and sacrifice. But the power-hungry men at the top of the system take advantage of this deliberately instilled belief. The girls are being hurt in plain sight, but somehow this isn’t enough to stir the villagers to rebellion, given the beliefs they have been taught. Instead, Anya’s anger at the system is taken as a flaw in her faith rather than a reaction to being hurt.

With that said, I should add there is no sexual abuse in the book that I noticed, though many bad things do happen to the characters. There’s a particularly creepy scene of forced tattooing that gets across the violation of something happening to the character’s body without her consent, though.

It’s not just the girls who are victimized by the system, although they are the primary targets. Anya’s love interest Tieran turns out to be one of the bravest characters who has survived so much, even though he initially comes off as untrustworthy and unreliable. The reveal of his backstory could almost be its own story or book.

By contrast, Anya’s father, a powerful landowner whom she meets for the first time towards the end of the book, is a very negative character despite his stand against the religious system that dominates the country. He turns out to be equally willing to make use of vulnerable girls for his own ends, and Anya’s efforts to avoid his control are compelling, as she asserts her independence from all factions. It’s not just about the bad ideology of the religious leaders–the secular characters can also be sexist and controlling.

Ultimately, Anya’s inner strength prevails against all comers. I highly recommend this book when it comes out on November 22nd.

Two More Ludmila Khersonsky Poems

More of my translations of Ukrainian poet Ludmila Khersonsky’s work are up at The White Review.

Poem #1 was written a few weeks ago in response to the February 25th invasion. Poem #2 was written years ago and reminds us that the war has been going on for much longer.

Both poems appear in English and with the original Russian text.


Links to donate to Ukraine here.

List of donation links related to the invasion of Ukraine

(Note: I am not Ukrainian. I have verified these to the best of my ability. Mix of Ukrainian and international orgs. This list is being continually updated. Inclusion of an org is not an endorsement of all their activities or positions but rather indicates that I believe they are working on the ground right now.)

OFFICIAL FUNDS FOR ARMY, MEDICAL, AND REBUILDING: The official way to donate to Ukrainian government funds for Defense and Demining, Medical Aid, and Rebuilding are here, with the chance to direct your funds for one of those purposes: https://www.uscis.gov/ukraine

General Humanitarian:

The National Bank of Ukraine has opened a fundraising account run by the Ministry of Social Policy for those affected by the war. https://bank.gov.ua/en/news/all/natsionalniy-bank-vidkriv-rahunok-dlya-gumanitarnoyi-dopomogi-ukrayintsyam-postrajdalim-vid-rosiyskoyi-agresiyi

Emergency Response/Medical:

Ukrainian Red Cross–The donation page is in Ukrainian hryvnias, not dollars https://redcross.org.ua/en/donate/

The following organizations are coordinating together: Razom, Nova Ukraine, United Help Ukraine, Revived Soldiers Ukraine, Sunflower of Peace, and Euromaidan-Warszava. https://razomforukraine.org/razom-emergency-response/

Food Aid:



Zaborona Media (https://zaborona.com/en/) fund for various journalistic needs here: https://2402.org/
Kyiv Independent: https://www.gofundme.com/f/kyivindependent-launch


To sponsor a Ukrainian family to come to the US: https://www.uscis.gov/ukraine

HIAS is supporting Right to Protections, their partner org in Ukraine: https://act.hias.org/page/6048/donate/1

Letjaha, activist collective in Poland driving people from the border and finding housing. Newer but seems to be doing good work. https://zrzutka.pl/en/xk4xmf

For those in Ireland to pledge rooms and housing: https://registerofpledges.redcross.ie/#/

For those in the UK to offer housing and sponsor visas for a family: https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/

Defense/army related funds:

Return Alive fund which “provide[s] material and technical assistance to the Armed Force” https://savelife.in.ua/en/

LGBT Military is an org of queer soldiers and veterans started in 2018. Their website is here with donation details on their Facebook page.

Jewish Community:

Hesed Ukraine: http://www.kievhesed.org.ua/en/
The Jewish Federation has a Ukraine-specific fund: https://connect.shalomdc.org/ukraine-emergency-fund

Queer/LGBTQ+ Community:

To help queer refugees and those in Ukraine: https://qua.community/news/aid-network/

To donate via QUA to Fulcrum, an organization on the ground in Lviv, select the “Direct Help LGBTQ in Ukraine” here. https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=ZNS7FXC4VLPYE

Disabled Community:

Fight for Right is a Ukrainian NGO that supports people with disabilities and has provided evacuation services for 90 disabled Ukrainians and their loved ones as of March 15th. https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-disabled-ukrainians



Ukrainian Volunteer Service coordinates volunteers within Ukraine. They assist civilians and soldiers both, with “special attention to helping elderly and disabled people” according to a friend who has seen them in action. https://secure.wayforpay.com/payment/uvs_support

Starred Kirkus review for CHIARA IN THE DARK

I’m thrilled to anounce that Kirkus loved Chiara in the Dark and gave it a starred review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/maya-chhabra/chiara-dark/

“As readers follow Chiara’s story, which is narrated in clear, direct, first-person poems, they will be heartened to discover that treatment options are out there, and they will be rooting for her as she learns to manage her illness… A sympathetic and ultimately hopeful story of strength.”

You can preorder here. Contrary to the Amazon release date, it will be released on April 1st. No joke!

Favorite Books Read in 2021

YA and Middle Grade:

Hold Back the Tide- Melinda Salisbury

A tragic, intense horror novel/rural fantasy–in a small Scottish village sometime in the 19th century, monsters attack from the loch. They are legitimately terrifying and vicious, but there are as many monsters in the village as coming from the loch. And they’re not who you might think fromt eh summary. Gripping and terrifying, but also uplifting in a strange way despite its sad ending. I loved Melinda Salisbury’s The Sin-Eater’s Daughter series and this was a worthy and skillful successor.

The Beauty of the Moment- Tanaz Bhathena

Susan, an Indian Christian brought up in Saudi Arabia, moves to Canada, where she tried to adjust and falls for a Parsi boy who was born there. Susan and Malcolm’s relationship is realistically imperfect, but hopeful, and helps them grapple with Susan’s parents’ divorce and Malcolm’s formerly physically abusive, now withdrawn, widowed father. Bhathena wrote A Girl Like That about a half-Parsi girl in Saudi Arabia ostracized by the community she wants so badly to be hers; this book, by contrast, is about finding community.

The Last Hawk- Elizabeth Wein

A young glider pilot in WWII is given the opportunity to help her country–or so she’s told. Living in Nazi Germany, our heroine is afraid her stutter will mark her out as intellectually disabled and thus a target of the regime (this is not made as clear as it could be in the novel, but people back then often connected speech impediments to intellectual disability). Instead, she’s swept up into the glamorous world of an older pro-Nazi female pilot, which gives her safety but also exposes her to the terrible truth about what the Nazis are doing with forced labor and concentration camp prisoners. She must decide what to do with this knowledge. There’s a delicate balance between self-deception and self-preservation in this one–the main character absolutely knows the disabled are being killed from the beginning, but she doesn’t see a way to do anything other than keep her head down and hope it’s not her next. As she grows in power both external and internal, she realizes she does have the opportunity and the duty to fight the regime, and that she can love her country while opposing it in wartime.


A Passage to India- E.M. Forster

Let’s be real, I didn’t think a British person writing in the 1910’s and 1920’s could write something this good about India. There are flaws–the self-insert character who’s let off the hook morally for witness tampering in a rape case, the exoticization of Hindu customs–but as the story of good people struggling to connect in a system that not only discourages, but in Forster’s view makes impossible honest friendship across racial lines, it is a powerful indictment of colonialism written before its imminent collapse became obvious. Credit to the author for looking past what his society told him and writing this beautiful, horrifying book.


Deaf Republic- Ilya Kaminsky

When a city is occupied by enemy soldiers who kill a deaf boy, the whole city goes deaf in protest, communicating by sign language as part of their resistance. But will the resistance succeed, and to what extent is the cycle of violence corrupting? And even if resistance is futile…well, is it? Includes the much-quoted poem “We Lived Happily During the War” and a message in a multilingual sign language created for the book.

2021 In Review

2021 was a good year for publications–only a single short story, but I also had my first novel and four poems come out.

In terms of writing, it was a difficult but productive year. I made the hard decision to pull my YA fantasy novel Thorns from querying for rewrites, and am still working on those. I also took some time off from graduate school for health reasons after completing the first year of VCFA’s Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA. Getting the right treatment was life-changing, and in July, I will be returning to VCFA for my thesis year.

While 2021 was a time of drawing back and regrouping, it was also a time of productivity. I wrote and edited Chiara in the Dark, my second novel and first one in verse, which will be out in April 2022. I also wrote two children’s books for a project I discuss yet, but also can’t wait to share with you.

In 2022, I want to finish rewrites on Thorns and make my best effort to put it out in the world. I can’t control if it gets me an agent or not, but I can make it a better book.

Without further ado, my publications in 2021:

Stranger on the Home Front: A Story of Indian Immigrants and World War I, from Jolly Fish Press.
A historical novel for a middle grade audience, recommended by School Library Journal for libraries that stock “the “American Girl” and “Dear America” series.” That comparison gave me great pleasure as I devoured those series as a kid. In contrast to those books, which had no Asian main characters among their historical protagonists, this focuses on the impact of World War I on California’s small Punjabi community. An anti-colonial conspiracy leads to numerous arrests and the largest trial in US history up to that point. Mixed-race Margaret Singh must grapple with her father’s secrets and learn to stand up for herself, while her German-American best friend fights her own battles in a time of nationalism and suspicion. Available for puchase at the link.

The Anchoress, in Shoreline of Infinity.
A short science fiction story for adults, about faith and doubt aboard a space station on a one-way journey. I call this my “nun in space” story. Available for purchase with the full magazine at the link.

Owl Prowl, at Reckoning.
I was asked for a poem about nature, environmentalism, and joy by Leah Bobet, who edited this issue. Instead it turned out to be about the joy of being engaged, and by the time it was published, I was married. Free to read at the link.

Naked I Shall Return To It, at Liminality.
A poem on the ancient myth of Inanna or Ishtar descending to the underworld, and her disarmament at each gate. The last of four mythological poems I’ve published in Liminality over the years, as it has now closed down.

The Gifts They Gave While Beauty Slept, at Sycorax Journal.

This poem, a dark Sleeping Beauty retelling I wrote in college, finally found its home this year. The first time I did a good job with the Petrarchan sonnet form.

The Plutocracy, at The Deadlands.

My take on Achilles in the underworld and the dual nature of Hades or Pluto as god of death and wealth. Sonya Taaffe, the poetry editor, was looking for a poem on precisely that duality, and fortunately, I already had this written.