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Book Review: Circe (with Spoilers)

Last month I read the classic science fiction book Dune by Frank Herbert. Every amazing world and religion building aside, I still can’t reconcile myself with what the author did to the characters of Chani and Princess Irulan in the end. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. I needed to balance myself with a strong dose of feminist voice. Thank goodness Madeline Miller’s Circe came to the rescue.

Circe’s plot pretty much follows the Greek myths of a minor nymph goddess named Circe. You can check out the myth here. In this post, I want to talk about how Madeline Miller hit so many aspects of womanhood through Circe’s story. Okay, it does span centuries so that’s a hint that Circe goes through a lot. ALERT : SPOILERS!

Womanhood Through Circe

You name it, Circe has it. Daddy issues? Circe was a daddy’s girl through and through. She starts out worshipping Helios (her Titan father the Sun). She ends up asking (demanding, threatening…) Helios to disown her as a daughter to go off and do her own thing. That’s the full circle alright.

First love problems? Say hi to Glaucos whom Circe loved so much she made him a god. And voila, he became not a god but an ass (figuratively speaking). Friends with benefits? She’s tasted it too. Hey there, Hermes, what’s up. A momentary warmth of love, and as always with the Greeks, tragedy? Enter Daedalus, the father of Icarus.

Sibling rivalries are abundant with Pasiphae (the Minotaur’s mummy), Perses, and Aetes. When Circe “grows up” into a more matured goddess, she finds herself playing as Auntie to monsters and menaces. In her exile she learns to finally accept herself and her vulnerabilities. Her powers as a witch grows and thrives on the island of Aeaea.

Climax

The climax of the story is in the last third , when Odysseus (yes, from The Song of Achilles!) comes and Circe has an amorous relationship with the married man, leading to her son Telegonus. Circe’s motherhood experience is handled with such a realistic tone that I applaud the author. When time comes for Circe to let her son go out into the world, she is heartbroken like every mom, but she does not prevent him.

By the time we get to Telemachus (son of Odysseus and Penelope), I can’t say how happy I am for Circe. Telemachus is THAT guy “society” says she should avoid in her later years – I mean, she slept with his daddy yo. But love conquers social norms, as the Greeks have said it from ages past. I’ll attest to that.

And here is the author’s most driving point: that Circe chose a different life than the life she was born with. She made a different world for herself, and in that she made her own happiness.

Friends, please read Circe. You won’t regret it.

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Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I recently did a reread of one of my favorite books ever: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I read it in English – it’s originally written in French. The message came across well enough through the translated text, at least for me. It must be absolutely glorious in its original language though.

Plot

Madam Michel, the concierge of a wealthy apartment building, is an “old soul” hiding behind the pretense of a dull janitor. One of the tenants in the building is the Josse family, with their two daughters: Colombe and Palome. The younger, Palome, is planning her suicide. The story follows Madam Michel and Palome as they observe their separate daily lives. One day a new tenant moves in: the Japanese man Kakuro Ozu. Through Kakuro, Madam Michel and Palome befriend each other. They realize they are invariably made of the same inner material.

Philosophical

The story is purposefully slow, like a film on slow motion. It’s full of lengthy expositions on Madam Michel’s thoughts of the bourgeoisie and Palome’s thoughts of the shallow life of adults. I’ll honestly say it’s one of the slowest books I’ve come across. Yet through their perspective of the small things around them, I have learned so much. In that way, it’s really as much a philosophy book as it is fiction. Think Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The author makes plenty of references to literature, art, music, and philosophy. This connects with my liberal arts training back in the States so naturally I feel right at home.

Upon my rereading, I realized I had forgotten how much this book impacted me, to the point that every heroine I now write has a little bit of Palome’s brilliance (and anger!) looking out through their eyes.

Not for Everyone

This book probably isn’t for everyone. It’s challenging, and the ending is as tragic as tragic goes. However, if every once in a while you decide to read something that’s a great introduction to philosophy, art, and the classics, The Elegance of the Hedgehog might be a good place to start. I’ll warn you, I cried as much in the reread as I did the first time around.

By the way, imagine my delight when I found out that between my first and second read, Palome and Madam Michel has hit the big screen!

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A New Experience: Editing Alasan Alin

Alasan Alin is a brand new book by Krisan Wijaya (author of Cerita Carissa) which I had the privilege to edit. The book is published by Omah Library (RAW Press), in a collaborative effort with Mad Tea Book Club. Here is your cue to toast to little dreams coming true.

A Big Little Dream

Since we started the Mad Tea Book Club, Sherry, Krisan, and I had been thinking about also having a small publishing house focusing on Indonesian women authors, with a curated theme of women empowerment. Of course, a dream takes time, resources, connections, hard work, and support. We’re super excited that Omah Library is on board to give it a shot for the first venture. Out of the box? Yes. Unusual? You bet.

Well. Life is short.

And so it was that I came to the editorial role for our first book: Alasan Alin. First of all, please be aware that the book is in Bahasa Indonesia. Lucky for me, Krisan is an excellent writer, so it makes things very easy. My contributions in editing Alasan Alin were largely 2 points: the stylistic footnotes and the plot twist at the end.

Ala Crazy Rich Asians

Since the book is a medical chick-lit, there are some healthcare related words that the general public might not be aware of. The author, Krisan, is a doctor herself, so in the first draft, she explained the terms in the narration. As we all know, this helps the general reader understand the terms, but it takes a lot away from the flow of the story. In order to keep both objectives, I suggested to Krisan to adopt what Kevin Kwan does in his series Crazy Rich Asians.

If you’ve read that series, its full of slangs and terms that’s very Singaporean, so Kevin Kwan moves all the explanation to the footnotes. He keeps the footnotes interesting by taking a different narrative approach – its sarcastic and snappy. I think this style works well for Alasan Alin, so that’s what we did for the final draft.

Alin’s Character Arc

My second contribution is the plot twist at the end. This is crucial to Alin’s personality and her whole character arc, thus Krisan and I discussed it back and forth. I don’t want to spoil things, so will just hint mysteriously (HA). Upon my first reading, I got the impression that the author (Krisan) had wanted to take it a certain way, but then shied away in the end. In so doing, the original intent built throughout the draft seems compromised. I suggested a plot twist that feels like it really was there all along – so Alin can really be Alin, with all her imperfection, flaws, and also fiery spirit.

…so Alin can really be Alin, with all her imperfection, flaws, and also fiery spirit.

Editing Alasan Alin was a completely new experience for me, but I loved it. The book can be ordered here. I do hope you enjoy her story!

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Movie Review: Turning Red

My hubby thinks I’m so weird for bawling my eyes out over this “cute panda” movie. Turning Red hits home for Asian girls though, and YOU ALL KNOW IT! Krisandryka from The Mad Tea Book Club first recommended this to me so here I am sniffing my snot.

Themes in Turning Red

The “tiger mom” culture. The pressure to continue a line of tradition which you don’t really understand fully. The constant demand of having to behave well. Those themes are all explored in this animation. But when our protagonist, 13 year-old Meilin activates the family curse and turns into a “monstrous” red panda, how is she supposed to behave? Herein is the main message of the animation: that you CAN be ugly. You CAN get angry, let your emotions out. In fact, if you try to always bottle it in, there can be disastrous effects. Like what we see with Meilin’s mother. Y’all, I’m just so glad themes like these are being brought up into popular culture. Finally.

Cringe Factor

There is definitely a lot of cringe factor (like their craze over boybands) but I think it’s special in that way! So few movies raise up this unabashed feminine side. How does a teenage girl go through puberty? In that way Turning Red is courageously controversial! I honestly think that teenage girls are the smartest representatives of humankind. Because of that, society cracks down during that crucial period and tries to conform girls into “the way women should be”.

Menstruation

This topic can be a whole NOVEL but let me try to condense a bit here. Raised up as a conservative Christian, it’s been pounded into me from the sacred book that a woman is dirty when she is in her period. Great, thanks. Add to this the social stigma of not being able to talk openly about my periods, how to deal with it, what to do when it really hurts, when I’m PMSing, and we have ourselves a continued rejection of the very way our body works. What a sad twist on how amazing our reproduction cycle is. And yet women are also baby machines. The irony is complete.

That’s why I think Turning Red is controversial but also so important for teenage girls to watch: so we know our cycles are to be celebrated, not to be hidden away in shame. Another similarly empowering movie for teenage girls is Netflix Enola Holmes.

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Book Review: Cinder’s Adventure

Cinder’s Adventure was released March 2022 in honor of 10 years of Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I’m a big fan of this series, so I gulped this right in. Afterwards, I saw a lot of mixed reviews from fans on Goodreads. Some fans are terribly disappointed because they have been waiting a decade for Cinder and Kai’s wedding, and well, Cinder’s Adventure didn’t have a lot of that. Some others enjoyed it for the fluff it is and are satisfied. I’m in the second camp. I’ll explain why below.

First Book

So I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I bought Cinder’s Adventure is because Marissa Meyer announced that she is donating all her royalties to First Book. It’s a non-profit that helps to promote literacy and a love of reading in underserved areas. Okay, support that cause and get a Cinder fluff in the meantime? I’m in. I do think reviews should keep this initiative in mind before slaying the author down.

Interactive Novella

I haven’t read one of these since I was a little girl. I’ll admit they’ve never been one of my favorite book formats. Such a format doesn’t really develop much plot or character or relationship due to the nature of readers choosing their own paths. I ended up jotting down what happened in each chapters and going through in chapter order to read what I missed. It’s like reading a not-so-connected collection of fanfics.

Marissa’s Multiverse

One thing that is fun if you’re a Marissa Meyer fan is the multiverse-ness of this book where characters intertwine and interact with each other. Pst…there is a happy Heartless ending in there somewhere! I haven’t read Instant Karma yet, but the snippet of it in this ebook makes me want to read that too.

Worth it or Not?

To go back to the question. If you keep your expectations in check: this book isn’t canon at all and is a collection of fluff, with a noble cause behind it, then yes I think it’s worth it. Note that it’s only available in ebook so no trees were wasted in the making. I do hope it stays that way!

Last but not least, check out this fancast Tiktok video I made in honor of the occasion: #Lunar10YearsLater

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Book Review: The Folk of the Air Trilogy

Huge thanks to @feb_books and @yourstrulyjulietta for getting me on board The Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black. This series is really hyping on bookstagram and booktok, and with hype books I usually keep my expectations in check. In my opinion though, this series is worth the excitement. Although, I do have some beef with the last book…

The Cruel Prince

Superior to the follow-ups by far. Perhaps it’s because this is the first time we meet the world Holly Black builds so it starts off with a real bang. Worldbuilding is rich and lush, and I really enjoy all the animals and cultures of the Fae. It reminds me of Nancy Springer’s Book of Isle level of worldbuilding. Character wise Jude Duarte is such a bad-ass I don’t even have words. I think that her character comes off strongest in the first book so I suggest to enjoy it here. The “evil twin” trope plays out really well with Taryn, who aggravates me completely. UGH. Our main guy Cardan Greenbriar is really a riot. Sure he’s the badboy with a sad past trope but I still think it’s a very refreshing male character. I have so much fun bashing on Cardan with twitter and tiktok memes.

The Wicked King

I just think it’s really funny how the author kind of spoils her own plot with the titles of The Folk of the Air books, the descriptions, and also covers of the books. Aside from that, I liked the second book because it has some great Cardan and Jude relationship development. There is also a really cool part where Jude is trapped by the Queen of the Undersea and has to stay in the underwater court – dang! This was intense!

The Queen of Nothing

Alright, I’m slightly disappointed with the third book of The Folk of the Air because there is barely any Cardan and Jude moments. In the meanwhile, the political game isn’t as interesting as it is in the first book, so what kept me going was the euphoria of the previous installments. My main beef is that I find it very hard to belief that a Jude who is as kick-ass as she was portrayed in the first book just doesn’t realize the loop around Cardan’s sentence to exile her. Seriously? There are several more moments like this in The Queen of Nothing where I’m like really? Come on, you all were much more interesting before.

Despite the disenchanting third book I still enjoyed the series as a whole and am looking forward to the companion novella How the King of Elfhame came to Hate Stories. If you like this series, definitely consider Book of Isle by Nancy Springer.

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My Monthly Expenses

Hi friends! As a follow up to my posts on financial freedom for women, here is a post about how I plan out my monthly expenses. As I’ve said before, the first step to controlling your money instead of being controlled by your money is to write down all your expenses and know exactly what’s happening to your money. That way, when you’re in need you won’t be in panic wondering what happened to your money and where did it all go to.

I started writing all my expenses down early 2019, and when my first husband died in mid 2019, followed by the pandemic and economic crisis in 2020 this habit really helped me keep things under control instead of derailing down financial ruin.

Be responsible with small things, because big things are just one small thing after another.

So here is how I plan out my monthly expenses:

  • 25% : food
  • 15% : insurance
  • 15% : vacation budget
  • 10% : investing
  • 5% : health
  • 5% : Kofie (our puppy)
  • 5% : phone and internet
  • 5% : chip in family needs
  • 5% : books
  • 5% : giving (donations)
  • 5% : miscellaneous

Food can sometimes be a bit higher if I’m being lazy and don’t cook, but it can be easily balanced out with cooking more often. Insurance is non-negotiable. Vacation budget is a great way to make sure I keep my scuba diving hobbies in check because the temptation is too real! For my thoughts on investing, visit this post. Phone, internet bills, and chipping in with family needs are quite stable so they don’t fluctuate much. Books are a real big temptation, so I do have to exercise major self-control and discipline there. But there are a lot of ways to stick to the budget like rereading favorite books!

I absolutely believe in giving, and I think it’s a very important philosophy to practice because for me, it’s the only expense that makes me feel richer! I would highly recommend to practice giving even if it’s just a little bit – like so many things in life it’s not about the amount it’s about the habit. The miscellaneous budget is also a life saver, plus it gives a little wiggle room as the month unfolds which is always nice.

Keep in mind I do have a separate emergency fund which I highly recommend to start building ASAP. So that’s how I manage month to month and I hope this post helps you work out your expenses!

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Steamy Book Review: Electric Idol

Electric Idol is the highly anticipated sequel to Neon Gods from the Dark Olympus series by Katee Robert. I’m so glad to say I loved it. I picked this up after finishing The Folk of The Air series (review coming soon for that) and it’s the perfect little rebound book after the hollow emptiness of finishing a great series.

Plot

The plot of Electric Idol is a modern retelling of Eros (Cupid) and Psyche. Eros is the most dangerous killer who does his mother Aphrodite’s will, while Psyche is the “good girl” third daughter of Demetrius and Persephone’s sister. Aphrodite is jealous of Psyche, so she asks her son Eros to finish the girl off. As these stories go, they fall in love and pretty much kick Aphrodite out of the picture. Straightforward. But of course, we pick up Katee Robert for her brilliant balance of smut, steam, and worldbuilding.

Steam

Loved it. Off the charts, just like the first one. What I found surprising, though, is that Electric Idol is actually really “traditional” in terms of the sexual acts in comparison to her other books which usually have much wilder play. Here it’s just the two of them, no BDSM, no dungeons, no toys. And I think that’s where Katee Robert’s skills are really shown off: even with only traditional elements, the book is still super hot.

Plus!!!

Oh and. A real winning reason to pick this up is that Psyche is plus size!!! I’ll be honest this is the first steamy romance book I’ve read where the heroine is plus size with stretch marks and all. It’s really refreshing and totally liberating. I wish teenage me read more books about hot fat girls, that might have helped me to avoid 10 years of bulimia. Anyway, I’m going to be looking out for more such characters for sure. In the meanwhile, Katee Robert is now most definitely my favorite smut author.

Oh bonusies, I made this short video on my booktok account which viraled and got more than 10K views, yeay!

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Book Review: Renegades Trilogy

If it isn’t another Marissa Meyer review from me! I finally hopped on the Renegades fan club about a month ago while on a road trip to Central Java. Many hours in the car = me getting lost in Nova Artino and Adrian Everheart’s story. Happy sigh. I’ll lay out what I think of the whole trilogy with just mild Supernova spoilers, so here goes.

Renegades (#1)

The first book in the Renegades trilogy had me wondering if it’s a Romeo and Juliet retelling. Marissa Meyer does amazing retellings (The Lunar Chronicles, Heartless, Gilded, etc) so it wouldn’t have surprised me. The setup was all there: two kids of two leaders whose family/gang/organization hate each other. They meet, fall in love, and the world falls apart and goodbye happy endings. I nearly stopped because as a principle I avoid tragedy in books (isn’t my life tragic enough?) but Sherry @thecozylibrary and Jules @yourstrulyjulietta assure me it’s not tragic. Phew! Indeed the first book ends with a plot twist that’s wild and I really should have seen it coming but I didn’t and it wasn’t tragic. I have to say, I’m super impressed. Having read (and loved!) The Lunar Chronicles, I didn’t think Marissa Meyer could pull off such a twist. I mean, Lunar Chronicles was great but nothing twisty, so I enjoyed the surprise.

The superhero and superpower world feels familiar with all the Marvel and Xmen movies we’ve grown up with, but the characters are fresh, especially Ruby, Oscar, and of course, Adrian. I mean, sketching things to sleep? Original. Nova’s power of putting people to sleep is cool but I think it’s ingenious to have her not need sleep. At all. It certainly provides a lot of room for the author to explore into her lifestyle (and lifestyle decisions).

Archenemies (#2)

The highlight of this second installment is the budding relationship between Nova and Adrian. Again and again the author excels at sweet, wholesome, completely believable teenage romance, peppered with just the right amounts of humor and fluff. I feel like all of the author’s relationships are organic; nothing is forced and everything is just so natural. Even her slow burns feel just right. Moving on to other aspects, there were set-ups here that have huge impacts in the final book, making for a solid middle book. The overarching structure of the trilogy plays out well, and I love that.

Supernova (#3)

Now the last book of the trilogy…is packed with plot twists and reveals. And a couple deaths but luckily not our Romeos and Juliets. If I remember correctly there were three huge twists. One of them (Hint: Adrian) was ingenious. I’d seen them coming, and it played out kind of flat at first, but had a very moving resolution. Me liked. The other (Hint: Nova) I’d also seen coming, but honestly I didn’t like it. The twist makes the good and evil all too clear, while I think the attractiveness of the whole series is the play on anti-heroism. The last twist is the epilogue. OMG. This had my jaw mopping the floor. This one I didn’t see coming, and frankly I loved it. I had thought the ending was too fluffy, but then I realized it’s working towards the WILD epilogue to make it WILDER. And that, was awesome.

The Mild Spoiler

Having said so, some of Nova and Adrian’s chemistry here felt bland, probably due to a certain scene where Queen Bee does something to Adrian and Nova just sits and watches. Girl. That’s a no no. Please don’t ever just sit still and watch next time. I think it’s difficult to pull off because it’s enemies to lovers trope and it’s in the middle of intense battles where they are supposed to be destroying each other. Here I must say is where Sarah J Maas excels. Even in similar situations (I’m thinking A Court of Thorns and Roses, that scene in Amarantha’s court where Feyre is being tortured and Rhys was there), we know that Rhys still had Feyre’s back, even though he didn’t show it at first. In Supernova though, it was just really painful to read.

So if you ask me, I really enjoyed Renegades but I think the Lunar Chronicles is still my favorite series from Marissa Meyer!