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Book Review: The Heart Principle

I am so in love. Helen Hoang!!! Scream!

Okay. The Heart Principle is book 3 in The Kiss Quotient trilogy, and since they work fine as stand alones I started with Anna Sun and Quan Diep (QUAN DIEP STAND) because Anna Sun is a classical violinist so hello! I am sure we can related. And gosh did we relate.

The Tropes

What could be better than a contemporary romance (The Heart Principle isn’t a rom COM, not at all) with these tropes: badass bike boy whose got tattoos all over his body and goody Chinese-American violinist girl trope? How about if the badass boy is a cancer survivor and goody violinist girl is autistic? Yeah. I told you it ain’t a rom COM because I don’t think it’s got comedic elements at all, despite the fun and light cover. It’s actually really sad, honest, and so, so romantic.

Anna Sun

As a classical violinist I am just in AWE of Helen Hoang’s portrayal of Anna’s struggles with her music. It’s spot on. I mean, granted, it’s on the extreme side of the representation, but Anna is kind of an extreme girl. When she’s good, she’s so good and pleasing to everyone. When she snaps…let’s say certain precious things get shattered. Permanently.

Anna’s family situation is so relatable on so many levels, that I seriously had to skip some pages because it was so triggering to read it portrayed just like that on the page. Take heed readers, I’m not kidding, it hits home and stabs our hearts especially if you’re a Chinese diaspora.

Quan Diep

Quan. This guy is FIXED my favorite fictional guy this year! Adam Carlsen from The Love Hypothesis can move aside because Quan Diep is the most sensitive, kind, caring, COOL, patient, cutest boyfriend ever. Seriously girls, you are going to fall hard for this Vietnamese biker man. His character is so three dimensional it feels like I might run into him anytime!

Autism Representation

Let’s also not forget how amazing it is to have an autistic author write characters with various representations of being on the spectrum. I seriously learned so much. What a lot of valor it takes to be unapologetically yourself, whatever state it is.

I immediately tried to get my hands on physical copies of The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, and am so excited to start reading them.

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Book Review: Galatea (with spoilers)

Having read both The Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller, I have decided I am a STAND (like a serious fan). Her writing is…full of pathos. Beautiful. Mysterious. Haunting. So when I saw that Tika has Galatea on her online shop, I had to get it.

Random fact: I think of Dido’s Lament by Purcell every time I read a Madeline Miller book.

Alright so Galatea was also the first book I (ehem) annotated! At first I wanted to annotate something longer, but I had just finished A Conjuring of Light (after binging the trilogy) and I needed something small, short, to the point, and full of female power to help me get over the hang up of the Darker Shades of Magic series. Galatea did so wonderfully.

Beware the smooth surface

Galatea’s creator hubby is truly an ass. From the beginning my comment was KILL HIM NOW. STAB. DIE YOU PIG. And I’m so glad that was indeed what happened. Of course, since its Madeline Miller, things happened in a more beautiful way. Even death. But it remains: Galatea did her husband in. Go stone girl. Their death was evoking (sinking into the sea) and as a diver I’m not gonna look at any sunken underwater statue in the same way again.

Of a special feature is the author’s note on this short story, in which she dissects Ovid’s original tale of Pygmalion (Galatea’s husband). As the author says, in Ovid’s original telling, the woman doesn’t even get a name. Here Madeline Miller backhands him when she doesn’t give Galatea’s husband a name. Take that!

Alright, I’m so excited for Madeline Miller’s retelling of Persephone!

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Book Review: Transcendent Kingdom

I bought Transcendent Kingdom at CGK (Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta) last year, before going on a holiday at Labuan Bajo with Rafida Adventure. I’m very interested in Yaa Gyasi, a Ghanaian-American author. One of the main issues in the book is a brother who struggles with substance-abuse, so that caught my eye also.

I’m glad I ended up NOT reading it that holiday because LOOK IT AIN’T NO HOLIDAY BOOK. I ended up reading through The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer that holiday. PHEW that was a better choice for the occasion.

This Holiday

But this year, for Lebaran (Idul Fitri holidays) we decided to stay inside. Plus, I’ve picked up the wonderful hobby of annotating (thanks to the wonderful influences of bookstagrammer @yourstrullyjulietta). I don’t have that many physical books since I mostly read on my Kindle, but Transcendent Kingdom has been sitting there for a year so I said: alright. It is time. Let us do this.

Transcendent Kingdom, page 126

Painfully Relatable

Transcendent Kingdom is about Gifty, a Ghanaian-American scientist narrating through her childhood and growing up experiences as a black, conservative evangelical Christian in Alabama, whose father walks out on the family, brother struggles with substance abuse issues, and mother gets severe depression: anhedonia. Just by that alone you know it’s not going to be an easy book. The emotional damage was so intense I had to eat painkillers afterwards.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend this book for everyone. The writing is great (brutal, really), but just like The Weight of Our Sky by Malaysian author Hanna Alkaf, please make sure you’re completely ready to begin the journey. Make sure you’re in an okay state of mind, absolutely knowing it’s gonna hurt even still.

Christianity Themes

The way the author goes about Christianity makes me wonder what people of other beliefs would experience if they read Transcendent Kingdom. There are a lot of references to Bible verses. Many scenes are from Southern Church culture, and I think it can really be up in your face at times.

I’m glad Yaa Gyasi wrote Transcendent Kingdom, because it helped me process some of the painful things in my life. If you personally deal with any of the issues above then I think this book will speak to your soul as well.

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Return to the Stage

A piece I wrote for Bandung Philharmonic‘s first concert after 2,5 years of pandemic in which indoors live arts events were prohibited according to necessary public health regulations.

In an era of pandemic, global conflicts, economic pressures, and our escalating online consumption, are live music performances still relatable?

That is the question I ask myself everyday. No doubt many musicians ask themselves the same thing.

Bandung Philharmonic Concert 14 May 2022 at UNPAR Auditorium

A wise lady reminded me that humans have been making music even before we learned to read and write. The Neanderthal flute, one of the oldest instruments currently known to archaeologists and historians, date back to between 40,000 – 60,000 years ago. Jiahu flutes date back 7,000 – 9,000 years ago, and Tutankhamun has trumpets in his tomb.

Human history is a history of sex, blood, power, and – among others – music. Rest assured music will always be a part of society, though how it’s created, distributed, and consumed might change at incredible speed. TikTok trending sounds (roughly 7 seconds each) will fall out of trend after a couple of weeks. The Instagram algorithm might suddenly push your reel to 100,000 viewers, while flopping your very next reel. A hype music video might sink to oblivion after the hype is over.

Bombarded with music from every possible platform, tonight we invite you, for a precious hour, to rest the noise of it all. Let your gadgets be silent while you listen to an acoustic offering in this amazing space. In the quiet of this sanctuary, let there be music.

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Trilogy Review: Shades of Magic

This is the first time I’ve read VE Schwab, thanks to @yourstrulyjulietta! Throughout reading Shades of Magic trilogy I had a blast gossiping with Khloe from @bookies_cloudeleven, Feb at @feb_books and Heni at @heniaakbar. I think I finished the whole trilogy in about a week…

A Darker Shade of Magic

The first thing that stuck out to me was VE Schwab’s writing, which shone brightest in A Darker Shade of Magic, in my opinion. Brilliant play of words and sentences to evoke the mood of the whole thing. Next up are the characters. Kell, Rhy, Holland, the Dane twins, all fascinating. Lila Bard…well 😀 I think she’s a character you either hate or love, you can’t really be on middle ground with this one. The worldbuilding with four Londons / worlds (although we don’t see much of them besides Red) is a cool concept, although I kind of wish there was a bit more variety between the worlds, not just with the level of magic.

Shades of Magic series is branded as adult fantasy, but this first installment had kind of a young adult feel to it (not necessarily a bad thing, I love YA books), perhaps because of Kell, Lila, and Rhy’s struggles with their identities and figures of authority, which is usually a YA theme.

A Gathering of Shadows

Hmm, sadly A Gathering of Shadows gets a Middle Book Syndrome verdict from me. Not much happens for a looong time until the games (the magician’s tournament). When the tournament finally started it was great, but by then I was skimming Kell and Rhy’s POVs, especially because they got rather whiny. Lila’s POV learning how to be a pirate from Alucard on the Night Spire, although lacking in plot, is something I love because I highly romanticize pirates (and secretly want to be a pirate myself so there you have it).

I’ve seen some reviews on Goodreads really hashing it out on Lila’s character (she’s special, one of a kind, not like other girls) while some other reviews gush and love how bad-ass she is – therein in my conclusion you can’t really be ambivalent with Lila, you either hate or or love her. For me, the thing about Lila is that her character is consistent. From the beginning to the end she was selfish, up-in-your-face, too much, and very very gray. So I think if she actually started to behave (gasp) better it would be weird and almost disappointing. Like, I’m just counting on her to be a wild card and bring trouble. HOWEVER, I have noticed a disturbing pattern which carries on to the third book…

A Conjuring of Light (SPOILER)

Okay so the disturbing thing about Lila Bard is that all the women around her dies. Calla, her dressmaker, Kisimyr the magician, Ojka the assasin, the Queen, Princess Cora, and even Jasta the other lady pirate (whom I thought was a really cool female character). By now I’m rather traumatized and really hope the author lets more female characters survive (in the expansion of the series) because pretty please?

Aside from the above concern, I gulped A Conjuring of Light in A DAY (and it’s the longest of three books). It was thrilling and quite emotional! The best thing I like is the fall of the city, the chaos afterwards, and how they slowly come upon the solution. The romance between Kell + Lila and Rhy + Alucard was delightful. Me likes.

Holland’s character is…tragic. It kind of felt like the first book was about Kell, the second about Lila, and the third about Holland. His fate is tied, has been tied to his world from the beginning – gosh what a burden to carry bro.

So here is what I think is really cool about the 3 Antaris + 1 (Voldemort-ish) piece of black magic. Lila from Gray London has always wanted freedom, which she gets by moving to another world. Kell from Red London just always wanted to belong, which he also gets by staying in Red, and Holland gets the hard knock of brutal fate, but at least granted his dying wish to breathe last in White London. Osaron, the black magic from Black London just wants more more MORE, and he too gets it (if my prediction is correct about the open ending). Look, everyone gets what they want!

If you like Shades of Magic, I would highly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (my favorite author) or Broken Earth series by NK Jemisin.

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Shades of Magic Fanfic

premise : Rhy helps Lila dress to kill

“I know how to kill, Rhy.” Lila Bard pointed out to the Prince, no, the King. Who surely had to have better things on his agenda rather than bicker over her outfit and make-up for his coronation ceremony? It’s his coronation ceremony after all, not hers.

“Rest assured I remember, very well, that fact about you,” Rhy flashed a rakish smile while applying kohl on Lila’s eyes. If only she would stay still. The woman kept fidgeting, one hand playing with her knife (even though her eyes were closed); one foot tapping impatiently. “There are, however, different ways to kill, Delilah Bard. Knives, black magic, those are all best behind us, aren’t they? Tonight, you will dress to kill.”

Rhy had chosen one of the late Queen’s dresses, repurposed it so that one could absolutely, most definitely, still swordfight in it. Not that they were expecting trouble at the coronation, but just in case. Lila twirled the knife in her hand, then threw it to slice into one of Rhy’s pillows. Right in the middle of his bed.

“Hey, I could have been there,” complained Alucard, looking up from grooming Esa the white cat. Both were draped in feline manner across the soft velvet couch. The only person of their circle not in the King’s chambers was Kell.

“I think that was her point,” Rhy petted Lila’s jutting cheekbones with crushed rose petal powder. She made a threatening noise from the bottom of her throat. “Now now, I am the King, and no apparent heir as of yet.”

“Well, I’m Lila Bard, and I don’t give a -” she couldn’t finish her punchline sentence, because Rhy had sprayed some icemint fresheners into her mouth. Lila wheezed angrily, wishing she hadn’t thrown her knife away. Coughing into her empty hand, she turned her palm and smeared away the colors Rhy had carefully dabbed on her lips. Serves him right.

The King sighed. This wasn’t going quite as planned, and the ceremony was this evening. Time to call on the trump card: his brother. Rhy pinched his forearm in a sharp and quick movement, drawing the tiniest bit of blood. Thanks to the bond between the two of them, Kell appeared within seconds with of an As Travars spell. Behind him, Gray London sealed itself.

The red-headed Antari spotted a knife sticking out of the King’s bed and made a pained sound. He rushed closer, healing words ready, blood still dripping from his fingers.

“Relax mate, the King’s alright. See for yourself,” the former captain of the Night Spire called out. Alucard grabbed the glass of wine on the floor and threw it up in the air. He turned the droplets into little red bubbles that floated towards Rhy and Lila, perched as they were in front of the elaborate mirror on the other side of the royal bedroom. Alucard’s left hand easily caught the goblet even as the wine bubbles coagulated on Lila’s lips.

She licked a bit off, but left the rest on. “Well that beats whatever gross sticky thing Rhy was using.”

Kell turned towards them, satisfied that there was, indeed, no Maresh royal body stabbed in the bed. Rhy stepped away from his work so not to block the view. Kell’s eyes, both the black and the blue widened. His heart gave a jump and in response, his infamous coat gave a delighted flutter.

Lila, who usually didn’t give a damn, quite like the look of amazement on the other Antari’s face. She stood up from the chair, letting the full effect of Rhy’s efforts befuddle Kell. The floaty sea silk fabric flowed from her bony shoulders to the floor, clasped by a thin circlet of silver leaf gemstones. Out of habit, she tucked a strand of hair behind one ear, finger carefully caressing several small knives disguised as silver hair clips. The sharp edges rested against the back of her scalp, comforting her. She knew Rhy would be more occupied with the front side of her face rather than the back.

Yes, Delilah Bard was dressed to kill.

All characters are from Shades of Magic Trilogy by VE Schwab! Got a prompt for me? let me know 😉 Also, check out my out some of my other fanfics here. Feedbacks and comments are always appreciated!

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Book Review: Six Crimson Cranes

Yeay for more representation of Asian fantasy in western bookstores! Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim has a gorgeous cover which winks at me every time I walk into Periplus. Irresistible.

Expectations Check

I think the cover got me too excited though, because I started Six Crimson Cranes with too high expectations. The writing is poetic, fairy tale like, and quite enjoyable. However I couldn’t connect with the main character Princess Shiori, nor any of the other characters except maybe Raikama. She is the stepmother who fondly takes me back to memories of Pai Su Chen the White Snake! Princess Shiori, on the other hand, falls flat, although to her credit she got more interesting towards the end.

Plot (MILD SPOILERS!)

The middle section is draggy for me, and rather repetitive. The plot twist at the end is very much appreciated because if not Six Crimson Cranes would have been nothing new. Another story we’ve all heard before. Granted the tale might be new to a western reader, but as someone who grew up watching Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Indonesian dramas, well…let’s just say there’s not enough of a hook.

Arranged Marriage Trope

Maybe I just can’t find it in me to appreciate arranged marriage tropes, which is the crux of the whole book. Princess Shiori is to marry a lower lord, and she despises him (whom she’s never met). Then when she actually gets to know the said Lord Takkan, and Shiori (of course) falls in love.

I suppose it sounds romantic for someone (perhaps from a non Asian culture) who hasn’t actually ever been forced into a setup. But for someone who’s gone through that whole process: sorry, I gotta say I hate the trope. Not to mention I am of the belief that marriage itself is an institution that is outdated (it has its roots in women as property) and well I’m just gonna rail off so let’s stop here.

All in all, if you ask me what I didn’t like about this book, it has nothing to do with the writing, and more to do with the fact that I just don’t like the story because of personal taste and experiences. If I do read the sequel, it will be because I’m interested in Eastern Dragons and would really like to see how the author fleshes out the dragon court. (Yes, I wished this book was more about Seryu than Shiori.)

If you like a good female power (feminist!) Asian vibe fantasy, do try She Who Became the Sun, or Land of Sand and Song by Singaporean author Joyce Chua.

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Book Review: Jamu Lifestyle

I’ve had the great honor of knowing Metta Murdaya, the author of Jamu Lifestyle, for about 5 years now. I can tell you: she definitely lives the title of the book!

Published by afterhours, I remember the first time Metta mentioned she was writing Jamu Lifestyle (it was before the pandemic). It’s wonderful to finally see, SMELL and feel it in my hands. However, knowing Metta, I had no doubt she would make it happen, pandemic or no pandemic.

Wellness Genre

If you like books on holistic wellness philosophies with deep cultural roots such as Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Healthy Life, and Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Livingle, then Jamu Lifestyle is perfect for you. Jamu Lifestyle contains historical background, the iconic tradition of women carrying jamu on their backs, all the way to modern jamu cafes and the magical potion that is Tolak Angin (perfect to dispel any unwell syndromes). The reader will get a good grasp of how jamu permeates Indonesian culture.

Historical background of Jamu

Hats off to the photographer for lovely pictures that complete the experience of reading this book. It’s really a feast for the eyes. In addition to how jamu has evolved, there are also recipes involving jamu herbs and tips on incorporating jamu into one’s daily beauty routine.

A personal favorite of mine: Beras Kencur!

Jamu Lifestyle also features articles by other professionals from various fields giving their thoughts on self-love and self-care. The carefully curated variety of the contributors gave a multidimensional approach to jamu in the lives of modern Indonesians.

Singer and Actress Dira Sugandi models for the section Jamu on the Outside

Indonesia Represent!

All in all, Jamu Lifestyle accomplishes the author’s goal: to place jamu on the international playing field of traditional wellness trends. But, as Metta herself often advocates: if jamu is a “trend”, then it is a trend that has settled into the very fabrics of Indonesian homes: from the village to the city, from hundreds of years ago until now, from the abundance of the soil to the abundance of our bodies.

Get your copy of Jamu Lifestyle here.

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A New Series!

My blog besties, I’m sorry to update y’all kind of late on this new scifi project I’ve started (!!!!). After Elements (Nishaverse #3), I had already plotted out the next book in the series. It’s set to be a standalone happening a couple of years after the final events in Elements. However, as the Muse usually whispers in odd ways, I got this idea…

When the Muse Whispers

Ok it’s not really sudden because I’d been thinking about it for a while. Plus there was this phase of my life back several years ago when I was just obsessed with theoretical physics, string theory, M-dimension, and all that. I’d always wanted to write a story that happens in several dimensions at the same time, and how they (the characters, the dimensions) relate to each other.

Then I kid you not I hear this TikTok sound that’s trending (below) and BAM that was what got this sci-fi romance draft started. So obviously we know that I’m clearly not over my obsession with theoretical physics. Second I am probably having too much fun on TikTok. BUT DO NOT JUDGE THE MUSE! If it comes, it comes.

What’s It About?

So what do we know about this new series? Well, the setting is in Nusantara (the new capital of Indonesia) 25 years from now. Our heroine is inspired by the Netflix Arcane series – Jinx and also her sister Vi. This new series is a young adult science fiction romance. Aaaand, of course, there is a parallel world to which they travel.

I wrote and wrote (and wrote) earlier this year. After the first draft was finished (March 2nd) hubby read it and gave some crucial feedback. This was a very important worldbuilding aspect I hadn’t been able to grasp: how time works in the parallel world they travel to. I also had to go through the whole draft and change ALL the tenses. I’d written it in third person past tense but then felt that first-person present tense was what the story needed.

Draft 2.0

I finished the second version of the draft earlier this month (April 2022) and am now just letting my wonderful beta readers and editor go through it (slay through it is probably more accurate). I’m nervous but well that’s just part of it. In the meanwhile, I’m doing as much reading of classic sci-fi for reference: Dune, Ancillary Justice, and The Left Hand of Darkness. I also plan to check out 2 mangas for reference: Full Metal Alchemist and H2O. I just need to find them…

If you have science fiction recommendations for me, let me know! To read some of my other works, visit the shop. Every purchase helps this wayfaring author, so thank you, readers!!

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Book Review: First Drop of Red

I’ll be honest the first thought in my head when I saw First Drop of Red and the dramatic cover was: WOW A POETRY BOOK ABOUT MENSTRUATION! Written by a young Indonesian female poet and published by POP (Gramedia imprint), it’s a sign that our world is changing, truly! I would never have been able to find such a book when I was a teenager going through my own “first drops of red”.

Surprise

Aha. So the poems are not about menstruation – talk about super imposing your perspective into a text (oh, me). The poems in First Drop of Red are about colonialism, growing into womanhood, the deconstruction of virginity (GODS DO I LOVE THIS), and self-acceptance. In the wonderful way that poetry is, there are also many other cryptic layers and hidden meanings amongst the words, lending itself to various possible interpretations depending on who you are as a reader and how (and when) you are reading it.

My Favorite Parts

I always enjoy a good honest ranting. Angry poems ala Sylvia Plath are only the beginning of centuries of women being oppressed and pushed down and considered second-rate to men. Dinda Mulia delivers good on the angry vibes. Preach it girl!

The collection doesn’t just have justified anger, though. First Drop of Red also has burning sensual moments building up to a beautiful climax. For me, it’s in The Yearning section, beginning with the poem Man with the Ocean Hue told from the woman’s perspective, shifting on to the man’s perspective with Dark Eyes (of the Night, Beneath the Moonlight).

“Made a dog out of this loyal darling…”

dinda mulia

That line for me feels like the pinnacle of the book. Perhaps because of the “dog” allegory which for many of Indonesia’s societies is considered haram (forbidden, dirty). Without cultural context this might not read as powerful; steamy romance genres are, after all, full of werewolf dogmen submitting to their female mates. But within Indonesian perspective, for a man to admit that a woman has made him into a dog is earth-shattering. Couple that with the gorgeous illustration by Pinahayu Parvati and I’m seriously getting goosebumps. Such a combination rarely happens by accident, so let’s give a nod to the editor: Anida Nurrahmi.

After this set of two poems comes My Atheist Boy which feels like a solidifying statement: the ground has settled, but it’s not the same ground as before.

Revolutionary

It takes a lot of courage for women in our society to step up and write about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Every time a woman does that, it’s a small act of revolution. I suspect the work is far from over, and there is much to do still. But a revolution consists of millions of small acts, continuously pushing authoritative doctrine made to suffocate women. With our voices, we claim back our dignity. With our pens, we write our way into a new world.

Go on, show your support and purchase the book. If you like Asian vibe poetry by women poets, consider also flinch and air by Laura Jane Lee, or check out my first poetry collection at the shop.