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Adult Book Review: Wicked Beauty

Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert is the 3rd book in Dark Olympus series. In this series Katee Robert does a freestyle retelling of Greek mythology and Olympians. I’ve very much enjoyed the previous ones on the series: Neon Gods and Electric Idol, so I knew I’d enjoy Wicked Beauty also.

Achilles, Patroclus….AND Helen???

I am utterly convinced to get the full impact one must read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles first. Get your heart utterly destroyed by the whole Achilles and Patroclus tragedy. Then, for a mood booster, pick this one up! It’s a happy ever after take on the two hot boys plus a certain woman for whom they went to war: Helen. Obviously, if you’re not a threesome person then this is not your thing. I found it quite fun πŸ˜€

Character Explorations

Katee Robert must have had so much fun with the archetype of these characters and turning them on their head. Achilles went through failure (gasp!) and picked back up his shattered ego for his loved ones. Patroclus faced his deepest insecurity, and the best character development of the three yet: Helen.

Our Helen in this book was just coming out of an incredibly toxic relationship with (who else) pretty boy Paris. Then her brother announced her to be the prize of the trials for the Ares position. In a truly feminist power roar, Helen enters herself into the competition. Her growth through the Ares trials and with the two men was sky high! Don’t expect a weak limpid Helen who just sits around looking scandalous. Expect Katniss Everdeen badassery in combination with Cersei Lannister’s sharp politic skills.

Steam

No need to doubt the steam with KR, she always delivers.

I’m a real convert to Katee Robert’s books and I’m so glad she has SO MANY. I’ll not tire of them anytime soon!

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Book Review: Of Myths and Men

Everyone who is a gamer or involved in any way with video games will love this book! If you’re not a gamer, there might be a few “insides jokes” which you might miss out on. Not to worry, they are but very minor. I was intrigued because I’m writing for a fantasy game at the moment, plus I love reading and supporting the works of contemporary Southeast Asian female authors. So, INITIATE CHECKOUT AND PURCHASE!

Gaming Vibes

Of Myths and Men by Catherine Dellosa is fast paced and action packed, perfect for people like me who are terribly impatient. The plot follows rather like a fantasy RPG game where you would go from quest to quest, solving missions until the bigger storyline slowly reveals itself. In that way I thought it was cool because the experience was like playing a game.

Cover

I had to mention this because I was thrown off by the artwork of the cover. The impression I got was that of a middle grade adventure vibe, when it’s probably more to YA or even NA with some spicy scenes.

General Thoughts

At a risk of a MINOR SPOILER, I’ll say I’m generally a fan of love triangles and Of Myths and Men had a hot one, wink wink. Hopefully in the sequel too :D! The main character, Ava, is a sassy, smart mouthed, and sarcastic narrator, which reminds me a bit of Percy Jackson.

One thing that slightly confused me was where this whole story took place. Was it somewhere in the Philippines, in the States, or in a different country altogether in an alternate universe? Several legendary characters / mythical monsters showed up that are very international (from Japan, the Arctic, etc) so that confused the geographical compass for me even more.

All in all though, Of Myths and Men was a fresh and exciting read!

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Book Review: The Kiss Quotient

Phew! The past week has been extremely busy with work transitioning out of the pandemic, but here I am to review Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient!

Steam

I got attracted to this book from @twentycharm bookstagram account in which she mentioned there was a lot of smut in The Kiss Quotient. I do love my steamy romances so that’s precisely why I wanted to get my hands on this. Having said that, since I do read straight up smut (Recommended: Katee Robert!) I actually think the scenes in The Kiss Quotient are quite mild. The amount also balances out quite well with the plot and characters, in my opinion. Which is to say I would have loved more but that probably won’t be the same for the general reader.

Plot

Helen Hoang mentions it in the Author’s Note, The Kiss Quotient is essentially a gender reverse of My Fair Lady. The gal Stella Lane is hecka rich and the guy Michael Phan is struggling with money and bills. A premise like this always makes for a fun poke into society, especially when it’s the female party that has more wealth. It takes a secure guy indeed to go into this kind of relationship and that was definitely part of Michael’s character growth, which I really liked.

Stella Lane

What really cool character! She’s got it almost all going for her: brilliant mind, high paying job, good-looking. She has flaws, mainly from her insecurity of being on the spectrum, which I imagine must be something totally relatable for readers that are autistic. Her character growth to embrace herself completely and face life with healthy attitudes is an empowering journey. Oh and of course, bonus points for her playing the piano πŸ˜€

Series

The Kiss Quotient is the first of a trilogy of romance books featuring autistic characters. The books can be read out of order since the plots are only loosely connected to each other. Coincidentally I read The Heart Principle first and it’s not as comedic and fun as The Kiss Quotient, but in my opinion it’s more romantic.

I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate authors like Helen Hoang who are spreading more awareness on matters that they really care about, and in such a lovely yet vulnerable way. The whole series is a 5 star read!

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The Joy of Annotating

I am officially deeply infatuated with annotating. Ever since my social media channels have been repurposed towards more of a bookish niche, I’ve been seeing all these gorgeous pictures of book annotations. I mean, take a look at Jules @yourstrulyjulietta annotations!

The only books I used to annotate were my textbooks. However, drooling over their pretty pics made me want to try it out too.

Equipment

I ordered transparent sticky notes and natural-ish colored tabs from Shopee and got to work annotating. At first I made smudges on my book GASP PANIC MODE. But well isn’t that life. The (very) first book I annotated was Galatea (Madeline Miller), followed by Transcendent Kingdom (Yaa Gyaasi).

I had the funniest feelings but what I didn’t realize was how much it would help me process my thoughts as I’m reading the book! WHAT! I’ve been missing out on this!

What About the Old Faithful Kindle?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be reading on my Kindle (it’s so convenient, really). But I’m also going to intersperse more physical books to annotate. I also enjoy doing giveaways on my social media channels, and guess what some of my #booktweet friends even said they liked to receive annotated books better than clean books! What do you know.

Ah, it’s so much fun I can’t wait to annotate more!

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A Quick Thought on Antiheroines

Recently, the books I’ve read have had major antiheroines as the main character, as opposed to heroines. Alin from Alasan Alin by Krisandryka, Delilah Bard from Shades of Magic trilogy by VE Schwab, Evelyn Hugo from The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Nova Artino from Renegades by Marissa Meyer, Eleanor from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, and several others.

It is the same in movies. Take villain retellings like Cruella or just straight up “bad girls” like Number Seven of Umbrella Academy, or Amy in Gone Girl. To me, these are wonderful signs that popular culture is starting to shift from “girls have to be good”. It used to be that “when a girl is unlikeable, a girl is a problem” writes Roxane Gay in Bad Feminist.

It used to be that “when a girl is unlikeable, a girl is a problem” writes Roxane Gay in Bad Feminist.

Can a Girl be Seen as a Neutral Character?

Diana Wynne Jones, legendary author of Howl’s Moving Castle (and also my favorite author) admits in Reflections on the Magic of Writing that if she wanted to use a neutral character, she would have to use a boy. A girl character could not be seen as neutral. Especially not at the time when she was still alive and writing. Honestly, I wonder of this even now.

Rebellious Girls

My own Nisha from Nishaverse, although not quite an antiheroine (I think she is still considered a heroine), also has a rebellious streak in her. It’s not as obvious as the current main character for the science fiction romance draft I am working on, but it is there for observant readers to pick up. As I am working on the translation of Nisha to Indonesian (hopefully set to release before the end of the year!), one of the beta readers, a bright Indonesian preteen girl, actually commented that she was surprised with how Nisha behaved as a girl.

Aha, I say silently. This preteen girl is precisely the age target of the Nishaverse series. It is precisely my aim to show that girls do not always have to be good, obedient, nice, etc etc etc. Girl characters do not even have to be likeable. They can be bad. Rebellious antiheroines. Despicable. Wicked! Tear up the centuries of unrealistic male fantasy.

We are finally claiming back our messy, complicated images instead of plastic Barbie doll figures.

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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 πŸ˜€ 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.