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Elements (Nishaverse #3) Official Release

This is the day! I’m so excited to share with all of you Elements (Nishaverse #3) which is the conclusion of the Nisha trilogy. Thank you to to all the readers for being a part of this ride with Nisha and her friends. To celebrate this special day, I’ve commissioned from fantastic bookstagrammer @yourstrulyjulietta to make a book trailer video.

Music: Game of Survival (Ruelle)

You can now purchase Elements (Nishaverse #3) in epub and/or mobi format at the shop. Take a moment to rate and review the book on Goodreads – I love going through what readers’ think because it is great feedback for me and for the story development in the future… wink.

To see what advanced reviewers’ and readers have thought so far, check out this page.

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Nisha – The Indonesian Edition!

Hi friends! Sorry to have been totally MIA on my blog for the month of November! It was quite a majorly eventful month to say the least. I had a scuba diving trip to the Banda Sea for a full week without internet (glorious, indeed). Bandung Philharmonic, an organization I co-founded had our Finalia Concertante. And last but not least, NISHA, the first book of my Nishaverse trilogy, is now available for pre-order in Bahasa Indonesia! Finally! It wasn’t an easy journey but we made it with the support of dear friends from Omah Library and The Mad Tea Book Club.

The Indonesian Edition

This version of Nisha had gone through a hefty translation process (my appreciation is skyrocketing for translators) PLUS it has EXTRA ILLUSTRATIONS from the amazing Inez Wandita who did all the covers for the ebooks! At the moment physical books are available for pre-order via Omah Library here: bit.ly/OrderOMAH. At the moment the price is very special, so save yourself some money and get it now. You’ll also be supporting indie publishing, women authors, women illustrators, and women empowerment through the power of storytelling.

Coming Soon to Shopee

After this special pre-order time, the Indonesian version of Nisha will be hitting The Mad Tea Book Club’s Shopee with some extremely delicious BONUSES which are still secret for now 😉 But be on the lookout because you can also purchase the bonuses separately.

Previous Reviews

Since the English version of Nisha has been released back in 2020, you can see some of the reader’s reviews on Goodreads. If you want the English, digital version, you can purchase it directly from my shop. Pst: there’s an audiobook version as well!

Obviously I’m so proud with Nisha’s journey so far, and thank you, THANK YOU all so much for supporting my writing!

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Book Review: To Kill A Kingdom

To Kill a Kingdom has got to be one of my favorite Little Mermaid retellings so far! Imagine the Ariel we all know being a hard, sharp killer, with the sea witch Ursula as her mother instead of sweet King Triton. And substitute the lovely mermaids we know with deadly, bewitching and ferocious sirens. You get Alexandra Christo’s To Kill a Kingdom.

Plot

Since it’s a Little Mermaid retelling, we know the basic structure of the narrative: sea creature girl fall sin love with human prince. The original Hans Andersen story has a tragic ending with the mermaid dissolving into sea foam while Disney paints a happily ever after. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that To Kill a Kingdom will have you smiling instead of crying at the end!

Enemies to Lovers

The siren creatures are at war with the humans, with Lira, our siren princess being the most famous prince killers and prince slash pirate Elian being the most famous siren hunter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an enemies to lovers carried out this convincingly before. There was no “they actually loved each other this whole time”, or Romeo and Juliet love at first sight between two enemy parties. Here it was real fear and hatred that our two main characters felt for the other. That changed to grudging respect, comradery, flirting, and then finally to love. I found this super satisfying and a lot of fun to follow.

Magic

Okay the one thing that seemed a bit odd to me was how magic played a deux ex machina role without much constraint in the worldbuilding. It’s literally oh this person can suddenly appear here and it’s because of magic (video game-esque, I must say).

Four Stars

All in all though, with just a little over 350 pages, To Kill a Kingdom wasn’t a long book. But the standalone had everything I was looking for: gory fairy tale retellings, fantasy world adventure, pirates, royalty, sirens, a great enemies to lovers relationship, and even a bit of politics on Elian’s part! I honestly wish it was a bit longer, but give me short, sweet, to the point any day over unfocused ramblings just length sake.

If you’re into pirate vibe books as much as I am, you might also like Daughter of the Pirate King duology.

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Duology Review: Sands of Arawiya

I have been curious about Sands of Arawiya duology for the longest time. I mean just drooling over the gorgeous covers at bookstores. This month I finally got around to ordering and reading both We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars. Here’s what I thought.

We Hunt the Flame

Before we go further, I have to say the print for my edition was way too small for me. My poor eyes really struggled there, and it made me wish I was reading on my Kindle instead. It definitely had me in a predisposed irritated mood which no reader wants to be in when reading!

Honestly, the set up for We Hunt the Flame was a bit too similar to Hunger Games. Zafira, the female protagonist, is almost exactly like Katnis. Her skill with the bow, the little sister (Primrose, Hi!). Even down to the boy next door who has grown up with her and is in love with her but sadly gets a nonfrontal rejection. Luckily I am a sucker for south Asian fantasy settings so the ancient Arab imagery kept me interested.

The plot itself unfolded quite fast with a lot of action so that I didn’t feel bored. However it did seem like the standard collection of YA event tropes. I liked Nasir’s, the male protagonist slash assassin prince, POV better just because I think it was more interesting – with the family pressure he had to deal with (from his Sultan father) and the pull of his growing feelings for Zafira.

There is quite an appeal to found family sentiments (the zumla), but in this first book, I just didn’t feel the chemistry and comradery of the group. Nasir and Zafira’s chemistry worked though, and that’s what tugged me along to the second book.

We Free the Stars

We Free the Stars is almost 600 pages long, and it felt that way, especially for the first 200ish pages. The story felt very slow, and even Nasir’s POV became a bit too pining for me. The one redeeming factor, I think, is Altair’s character (who, by the way, reminds me a lot like Nikolai Lantsov in Shadow and Bones). He’s the General of the kingdom, and well, his identity has a bit of a twist in it.

Once it got to the middle point the plot was much more interesting. Towards the end there was even a bit of Zafira descending into delicious madness thanks to the power of the Jawarat (a magical book). I didn’t understand why this was painted as morally bad. I honestly thought it was one of the coolest things she did! Like finally, Zafira’s villain era, yeay!

That brings me to one of the aspects that irked me during this duology. I feel that there was quite a heavy hand on being good and getting on that moral high ground, while at this point of my life I have to say I’m much more interested in gray anti-hero stories (cue Taylor Swift).

Oh, the writing throughout Sands of Arawiya was definitely atmospheric, though at several action points it got me confused as to what actually happened. All in all, if you’re looking for a standard, happy end, romantic YA fantasy adventure, then I think Sands of Arawiya will do fine.

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Book Review: Instructions for Dancing

It can be said that I’m a fan of Nicola Yoon. I’ve read one of her other books: Everything, Everything and the plot twist to that was one of the most memorable plot twists ever. So when Instructions for Dancing showed up on the Bootopia discount shelf at my local Periplus, I decided to go for it. This review has SPOILERS so beware!

Plot Twist

In line with plot twists, Nicola Yoon definitely threw another major (and painful) twist towards the end of Instructions for Dancing. I’m quite sad to say that it didn’t work at all for me. Basically, a mysterious bookkeeper witch suddenly gives (or curses) Evie (our main character) with the ability to see the beginning, middle, and end of people’s relationships as they kiss. Witness a kiss, and BOOM, see what happens to their relationship.

Now the reason the plot twist didn’t work for me was because it involved the boy X (the love of Evie’s life) getting a heart attack and dying more or less 10 months after Evie has the vision. And she didn’t do anything about it! I mean, granted she didn’t know it was a heart attack, but if it was the love of my life I would at least BEG for a full medical check up! I know there was a conversation in which X had said he didn’t want to know when he would die because it prevented him from living life to the fullest, but I’d be hard pressed to believe that a young, seemingly healthy boy in love with life wouldn’t want to at least put up a fight before the face of death. At least, to have that chance. Thus the plot twist ended up rather upsetting for me.

Cheating Trope

Another unhappy issue I had with this book was that it romanticized cheating trope. Evie’s dad cheated on her Mom, which caused them to get a divorce. Now, I don’t mind cheating tropes, but I think there is a way to do it (even maintaining the same endings for the parents) so that it’s not romanticized.

Writing Style

Having said those two main issues, I have to say the writing was delightful. The banter between X and Evie, and their chemistry was so sweet. And I did like the ultimate message: that love is worth it even with all the painful thorns. I just really wished it was handled a bit differently. Will I be reading more Nicola Yoon? You bet.

For a sweet, happily-ever-after young adult romcom, check out My Mechanical Romance.

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Book Review: Klara and the Sun

It’s been such a long time since my last Kazuo Ishiguro read, which was the highly acclaimed Never Let Me Go. I wasn’t quite as attracted to the premises of his following books, but Klara and the Sun intrigued me right away. It didn’t disappoint, though I’m left with this feeling of trying to grasp something that is continuously slipping away from my fingers.

Plot

Klara is a solar powered robot, an AF, an Artificial Friend, who has very high observational qualities. In the beginning of the story, she is at the store with her robot friend Rosa. Along with other AFs, they eagerly await families to purchase them. One day, a girl with a limp named Josie comes to the window display where Klara is stationed. They have a small conversation, through which they fall in love with each other. Josie promises Klara that she will convince her mother to come back to the store and purchase Klara.

“It is for the customers to choose the AF, never the other way around.”

After sometime, Josie and her mother does come back into the store. After a strange inquisition by her mother, Klara is bought. The second half of the book has Klara acclimating to her new home. There she slowly discovers the dynamics and tensions of Josie’s family.

Point of View

In sci-fi, it’s always interesting when we get the story from a machine’s perspective. In this case, we get it from Klara. We know that she isn’t the most reliable narrator. The limitations of how she experiences the world is imposed on the reader. The result is that at times it can feel a bit disjointed, disconnected, and honestly a bit confusing. However, here lies is the brilliance of such a writing device! As a reader I’m getting both a “robotic experience” while also comparing it with what is actually probably happening. I honestly love books like this, where some of the meanings are not stated so extrovertly, but rather left open to the reader for their own interpretations.

Themes

Klara and the Sun explores themes such as what it means to be human – can advanced Artificial Intelligence replace humans? Perhaps the question is not can, but when. And when that happens, then what? How about love – can Artificial Intelligences love? How do they show it? In return, can humans love robots? To what extent?

Of course, those themes are not new in sci-fi, they’ve all been explored before (even Disney’s Toy Story, to an extent). In fact, because of the “age” of the main character, and the issues she mainly has to deal with, this feels like sci-fi for younger readers. With that said, I did still enjoy it very much, and Klara is a brave, unique protagonist that will stay with me for a while.

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Book Review: Seven Days in June

OH MY GOD. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams had me on me such an emotional rollercoaster, I’m not likely to forget it anytime soon. Shane Hall and Eva Mercy, y’all are iconic. But wait. Even more so is Eva’s daughter Audre! Wait what? Okay, let’s get to the review.

Plot

Seven Days in June is an epic romance featuring two black authors: Shane Hall and Eva Mercy. Shane writes literary fiction, while Eva writes erotic fantasy (I want to read it!). The two first met when they were teenagers (17-18 years old), fell in angsty dramatic love, and got separated all in just one week. They meet again in their thirties. By this time, both are celebrated authors in their fields. Eva has married and divorced. She is mommy-ing twelve-year-old Audre, an emotionally brilliant teenage girl. Shane mentors at-risk black boys and is getting over his alcohol addiction.

Chemistry

Let me tell ya, Shane and Eva’s chemistry is crazy. Every time they share a scene together, it’s charged on super high voltage. Rocketing off the page. I saw some reviews that didn’t like their relationship because it was problematic – the first time they met both of them were on substances, then it all happened so fast (hence, the title), and they are basically codependent. I agree with all of this, however, the author states that the story is a Romeo and Juliet retelling with this premise: what if they were both black and they didn’t die? What would their relationship be like as adults? With this frame, the whole narrative makes perfect sense. It’s heightened drama, for the sake of the story, and I loved it!

The Heroine

Now the real heroine of Seven Days in June though is Eva’s daughter Audre. What a character. I’m so glad she’s a big part of the story – and she steals the show every time. Teenage girls rule the world!

Black Community

One of the reasons I read it was because I wanted to learn more about the modern black community. Seven Days in June definitely doesn’t shy away from the hardships, but it also accentuates the joys.

Rating

Overall, I’d give it 4 stars because I felt like the Epilogue was really main story material for another book. Also, a major plot point was not resolved, regarding what Eva told Audre about Lizette (Eva’s mother and Audre’s grandmother). For the steam, I’d give a 3 star because I was hoping (begging) for more, honestly!

If a sequel ever comes out, I’d definitely get it. For another emotional (and steamy) adult contemporary romance, also check out The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang!

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Series Review: Caraval

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is a super hype series I’ve been curious about. I pretty much binged all three books over a weekend. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed the series. It’s as magical as it promises, twisty, and quite fun. Nothing stood out as groundbreakingly new or brilliant, but there were a few shining moments here and there!

Caraval

Three stars for me, with some extra sparkle for Scarlett’s self-changing gown. What I’d give to have that kind of dress- I don’t have to buy new clothes or change, ever! As a beginning this was solid, introducing the mysterious realms between real and unreal. A few times I thought for sure I’ve guessed the plot twist, but Stephanie Garber throws some cards of her own.

The descriptions, while some were lush and enjoyable, sometimes bogged down the story. I guess I didn’t totally LOVE it because I just didn’t feel any natural chemistry between Scarlett and Julian. It was only at the very end where I started sympathizing (a wee bit) for the couple. On the other hand, Scarlett and Donatella’s sister bond was beautiful. Sadly, due to the plot, Tella was missing for about eighty percent of the book.

Legendary

Four stars! Despite the start being rather slow, I think the book picked up quite excitingly from halfway to the end. Did it need to be this long? I don’t think so. Were the descriptions still superfluous? Yes. That aside, while Scarlett was the main character of the first book, Legendary features our bad girl Donatella. Tella’s perspective is indeed more interesting precisely because she’s a baddie. I could also feel Tella and Dante’s chemistry more (in comparison to Scarlett and Julian’s).

Stephanie Garber also introduced the Fates in Legendary, and I must say that makes everything more interesting. Gods frolicking around the mortal world always makes for good potential drama (hence why it’s so popular). The author definitely used it to her advantage.

Finale

This had me in a bit of a mix. Back to three stars, mainly because of some rather disturbing plot points. They were minor, but ugh. Clue: even the Targaryens of Game of Thrones didn’t venture this territory.

Caraval’s Finale was told from both Scarlett and Donatella’s perspective, which I think is pretty cool for the overarching structure of the trilogy. Sadly, what I think is the heart of this series: the sister bond between the Dragna girls, were cast to the side in favor of their romantic rollercoasters. Tella’s point of view had too much pining from me, at sometimes bordering glorification of toxic relationships. What tugged me along was the quick action points of the plot. I know some went nowhere and were probably not too necessary to the main plot, but at least it provided action. As in, at least it was better than Tella pining for Legend.

Sparkle points go to Scarlett’s gown (you kick ass piece of fabric, you), the Count’s dog (oh my baby), the Zoo in the Immortal Library, and a couple of Jacks’ villainy lines.

Bonus Contents

Oh, and a special mention to the bonus contents in the end of each book: there was a playlist, author annotated pages, and deleted scenes. I really liked these!

If you like semi dark young adult magical adventures with romance and happy endings, I’d also recommend Hotel Magnifique or The Folk of the Air trilogy.

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Book Review: How Long ’til Black Future Month?

How Long ’til Black Future Month is a collection of short stories by NK Jemisin. Ever since I came across her Broken Earth Series, I’ve been a huge fan. It was a real treat to read her explorations in this book.

The Imagination

I gotta give major applause to Jemisin because the range of her imagination is wild! Some stories are sharp and witty in their commentary on society, while others have an undertone of religion, albeit with fresh (may one argue, necessary?) twists. Others have the apocalyptic futuristic sci-fi vibe that we all love. A few were downright hair-rising creepy (in a good way, of course). Not all stories have an equal punch to them, but for me, the great ones definitely outnumbered the ordinary few. Some of my favorites were: Red Dirt Witch, L’Alchimista, The Effluent Engine, The Trojan Girl, and The Narcomancer.

Experiments

Every bit as enjoyable and eye-opening to read is Jemisin’s self-written introduction to How Long ’til Black Future Month. On the writing aspect, it was fascinating because she credits her ability to write longer-form novels to short stories. She says, “writing short stories taught me about the quick hook and the deep character.”

The worlds of her longer series were originally tested out via short story form, and indeed it was cool to see that play out. The short story Stone Hunger became The Broken Earth series, and it was rather nostalgic to see an earlier version of that world.

Black Characters

One of the reasons I love NK Jemisin is that she doesn’t shy away from anger. Of course, POC books can be escapism too, and don’t have to be about social issues all the time. But in the hands of Jemisin, they become both. They are both great escapist avenues while still bringing to light centuries of racism.

“I still wrote black characters into my work because I couldn’t stand excluding myself from my own damn fiction.”

NK Jemisin

NK Jemisin often states that she has no interest in maintaining the status quo, and indeed her writings are about challenging existing paradigms, overthrowing order, and reimagining the future. The vibe of her stories reminds me of the poet Maya Angelou. Jemisin’s own words sum it best:

“Now I am bolder, and angrier, and more joyful; none of these things contradict each other.”

NK Jemisin

Rest assured I am on a mission to read all her works.

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Book Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon

The Jade Setter of Janloon is a novella by Fonda Lee. It takes place before the events of Green Bone Saga, in the same jade studded world. Since Green Bone Saga is one of my favorite trilogies (and I miss Kaul Hilo too much), I had to get my hands on this short story. Good news: it didn’t disappoint!

Plot

The Jade Setter of Janloon follows Pulo, an apprentice to Isin, the most revered Jade Setter in Kekon. Even Ayt Mada, the Pillar of the Mountain Clan has her jade setted by Isin. But when someone steals Ayt Mada’s moon blade from Isin’s shop, the stakes get very steep, very fast.

Short as it is, Fonda Lee weaves well paced drama about all the characters of the jade shop. You really start to feel their anxiety as their situation worsens. One thing I always enjoy about Green Bone is how authentic the Eastern themes are, and how the characters deal with the paradigms they have grown up with versus the modern culture and world. In the trilogy there were big themes of honor, family vs individuality, upholding your culture vs managing westernism, etc.

Here it is the master-student relationship which the author grapples with. This theme wasn’t explored so much in the main trilogy, so special nod to Fonda Lee for finding yet something else that’s ancient and incorporating it into her jade world seamlessly. She also raised a very important social issue in this novella (it would be a spoiler if I say it) so kudos for that!

Appearances

Yes, Hilo (still a Fist, not yet the Horn) has a major appearance with the Maik brothers. LOVE THIS. Not just Hilo, but Lan and Ayt Mada have their moments as well. I did miss Wen and Shae terribly, though I see how the plot would be forced if they were to be incorporated into this particular storyline.

As for the main characters of the novella, I didn’t feel so much for Pulo, but his character did get major development. Malla is an interesting character – I’d love to get to know more too. I think Pulo and Malla’s romantic relationship was a bit forced, but it’s a minor complaint.

In the end, if you loved the trilogy, I think you’d have a great time with this novella!

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Movie Review: Belle (2021)

This anime film completely exceeded my expectations! Here I was, thinking it would be a fun, futuristic(ish) metaverse vibe retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Which it kind of was, but then it went way beyond that.

Plot

Belle is the most popular influencer/singer in the digital world of U (aka the metaverse of the film). As a hit newcomer, of course she has everyone wondering who she is in the real world. Enter Suzu, a completely ordinary high-schooler on the shy, clumsy side of life. Suzu learned singing from her deceased mother, and as much as she loves it, Suzu finds she can only sing in the digital world using her avatar identity, Belle. Whenever Suzu tries to sing in real life, post traumatic symptoms set in to block Suzu’s voice.

Suzu feels like she’s all alone, but she actually has a great best friend named Hiro, a tech-savvy genius physicist who helps with all of Belle’s music productions and digital effects in the U. Basically, Belle would not have been that popular without Hiro’s skill. The two girls are the only ones who know of Belle’s true identity.

Since it is a teen drama, there is high school drama in Suzu and Hiro’s lives which they have to deal with, in addition to a threat in the U named the Beast. The Beast causes problems where ever he goes, but Belle takes a liking to him. When Beast gets into deep trouble with the Justices in the U, Belle thinks she is the only one that can help him. But how can she help him if she doesn’t even know who he really is?

Thus Suzu and Hiro begin their search for Beast’s identity in the real world, and what they find out will change Suzu’s life.

Thoughts

My gods, the plot twist of who the Beast was really got to me. It was completely unexpected, suspenseful, and emotionally gut wrenching. Writer and director Mamoru Hosoda did an excellent job superimposing the digital and physical realities of our times to show how both are real, both interactions on digital and physical platforms can really change people’s circumstances and lives. The side characters: Suzu’s dad, the community choir older ladies, and Suzu’s high school friends Shinobu, Ruka, and Kamishin, are also precious, especially as the film eventually reveals their relationships to each other.

The ending deeply moved me, and yes, I did cry in several climactic moments. As a plus, the animation and soundtrack (Belle’s songs) are beautiful. I highly recommend this anime film!

PS: the premise of this film reminds me of If I Stay, a novel by Sherry.